Reading: A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel – Annie Griffiths Belt

Book cover for A Camera Two Kids and A CamelI picked up A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel completely randomly during a long afternoon spent browsing the shelves at the local library. My intention was to take it home and flip through the pages at the breakfast table, but I was greatly mistaken at how involved I would get with this book.

A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel is written by Annie Griffiths Belt, who was the youngest photographer at the National Geographic Society when she arrived to work there in 1978. A photographer by trade, Annie has compiled A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel as an autobiography / coffee table book, and it works. Early in the book, she writes about her journey of becoming a photographer (it all started with a college newspaper assignment) for one of the most-renowned associations known for its vivid and authentic photography, the National Geographic Society.

She talks about meeting her husband (Don, a writer for the magazine), and then having two children. For many people, this would result in the end of their world travels, but having children simply fueled Annie and Don’s desire to share the world with their family, so for many years, the four of them have traipsed from the Galapagos Islands to Jersalem to Wyoming and beyond. (The kids, now in their early 20s, still travel frequently with their parents.) Annie writes a lot about what it’s like to travel with kids, thus providing valuable information to people who would like to do the same.

After introducing herself, her work as a photographer, her family and their experiences as a traveling family, Annie introduces readers to a wide variety of her photography. Large, colorful spreads of Appalachia with the fog rising, a Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives, members of the Calder Valley Mouse Club, the veins of the Sea of Cortez and dozens of others spill across the pages, drawing people into the world as seen through Annie’s eyes.

Interspersed with these photographs are sections of text describing specific experiences living, working and giving back to local communities in certain parts of the world. I particularly enjoyed the part of the book focused on the Middle East, when Annie traveled throughout Jordan, Israel, Syria and Egypt. I loved reading about her experiences of trying to photograph places, holidays and people that weren’t meant to be captured on film for any number of reasons. In many cases, Annie was the first (and is still the only) person to take pictures of certain sites and traditions in the Middle East, and it is as fascinating to read about how she did this as well as look at the photos she shot.

I absolutely loved A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel because of its unique blend of being a travel guide, travel narrative and collection of stellar photography. If you pick it up, take the time to read it as well as enjoy the photos. Text and images together tell this story.

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