Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Tom Abercrombie (1930-2006): A Geographic Life

August 23, 2006

A Memoriam

Shortly after the National Geographic Society began publishing its journal more than a century ago, founder Alexander Graham Bell was asked what subject matter his new periodical would include. His reply: ‘The world and all that is in it’ –a tantalizing broad mandate. Down through the years Lynn and I tried hard to follow it. We worked on every one of the continents and left wakes across the seven seas. The GEOGRAPHIC was witness to a century—arguably the most telling in human history—and we were fortunate to have spent nearly half of it there.

Ours is a story—a picture story—of two people before whom was spread out the greatest of treasures: our planet Earth. For four decades we travelled aboard that magic carpet with the yellow border.

“Much of that world has changed since our days in the field—not always for the better. Many of the smiles we captured are no more—bleached by tourism, stricken with war, and battered by revolution. Multi-faith Lebanon is torn by sectarian anger; Saudi Arabia is constrained more than ever, as a government of wealthy princes faces off against its more fanatic citizens; Cambodia struggles to rid itself of a decade-long nightmare; Afghanistan bleeds from foreign invasions and its own medieval fundamentalists; Iran remains at loggerhead with the West; and Iraq lies in ashes. So, in a sense, my work records history as much as geography. As has often been said: The past is another country.”


[Source: National Geographic Magazine August 2006]

Some people dream of exotic adventures with National Geographic. Thomas J. Abercrombie lived that dream.

…His first photograph was of his girlfriend, Lynn.

Thus began the journalistic passion of Thomas J. Abercrombie, who died recently at age 75, after retiring in 1994 from a monumental National Geographic career that took him to every continent, taught him four languages, brought him near death more times than he cared to count, and yielded 43 articles for this magazine, including some of the most ambitious ever published. During his 38 years on the staff, Abercrombie reported as a writer and photographer from Japan and Cambodia, Tibet and Venezuela, Spain and Australia, Alaska and Brazil, and as the first photojournalist ever from the South Pole. But his most significant and enduring contribution surely lies in the 16 articles he produced on the Muslim world between 1956 and 1994, which guided Geographic’s readers through the glorious and tangled geography of what may be, now as then, the closest thing the Western world has to terra incognita.

[Source: National Geographic – Tom Abercrombie: A Memoriam]

Thomas J. Abercrombie, 75, a National Geographic magazine photographer and writer who negotiated countless near-death ordeals during his 38 years of world travel, died April 3 at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from open-heart surgery.

His friends said he picked up languages as easily as most people pick up souvenirs: He was fluent in German, English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and he could fake it in Italian. Before oil transformed the economy of the Middle East, Mr. Abercrombie was a well-known presence in that corner of the world, and he became friends with the Saudi royal family.

Yet his travels were not all swashbuckling adventures. On an early trip to Lar, Iran, he came across the aftermath of an earthquake. “I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled 10,000 dead bodies,” he told a Baltimore Sun reporter in 1999, taking a deep draw on his pipe. “But it’s something you’ll never forget.”

Over the years, he became the magazine’s expert on the Arab world, and he was so impressed by Islam that he read the Koran in Arabic and became a Muslim. He made four pilgrimages to Mecca, where he took the first photographs of the city made for the Western world.

[Source: Thomas J. Abercrombie; Photographer For National Geographic Magazine]