Political society

National Geographic Society bolsters storytelling impact with appointment of two new Explorers at Large – National Geographic Society Newsroom

Today, the National Geographic Society named American artist Maya Lin and Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam as National Geographic Explorers at Large.

The title, which comes with opportunities as ambassadors of thThe National Geographic Society and support for the continuation of their impactful work is given to a select few global changemakers and thought leaders, including fellow National Geographic legends like Bob Ballard, Rodrigo Medellín, Sylvia Earle and the late Thomas Lovejoy.

“For 134 years, the National Geographic Society has been known for its storytelling abilities, and we want to use this superpower to have a global impact,” said Kaitlin Yarnall, the Society’s Chief Storyteller. “Throughout their careers, Maya and Shahidul have clearly demonstrated their courage, creativity and innovation as storytellers, and we look forward to collaborating with them.”

In this role, each Explorer at large will receive an annual stipend and have access to additional grant opportunities from the Society to support work that aligns with our mission to illuminate and protect the wonders of our world.

About Maya Lin

Artist, sculptor and designer, Lin is perhaps one of the most recognized names in architecture. Her first major success came during her senior year at Yale when she submitted the winning design in a national competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C. Since then, she has carved out a unique multidisciplinary career and has earned enormous recognition: a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and exhibits at prestigious museums like the Smithsonian Institution.

In 2019, the Company funded Lin to finalize a long-term project called What is missing––a poetic and engaging ecological memorial that illuminates the species and places we have lost, and highlights what we could save if we were brave enough to make the right changes.

“I see myself existing between borders, a place where opposites meet; science and art, art and architecture, East and West. My work was born out of a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings,” Lin wrote in his book. Borders.

About Shahidul Alam

For over 40 years, Alam has demonstrated the power of storytelling to generate impact, and yet it was a happy accident that he became a photographer in the first place. Alam was traveling across North America in 1980 when a friend asked him to buy a camera, but couldn’t pay for it – so Alam started using it. He started as a photographer of children’s portraits while studying to become a chemistry researcher, and eventually recognized that effective images could fuel activism.

“Through a photograph, I could turn a statistic into a person,” Alam said at National Geographic’s 2020 Storytelling Summit.

Upon returning to Bangladesh in 1984, Alam became a dedicated photojournalist, documenting the democratic struggle to overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler. Over time, his photographs of life in Bangladesh, including social and political conditions and the environment, have become well known in his country and around the world. His work has been featured in major Western media such as the New York Times, exhibited in prestigious museums such as the Tate Modern in London, and he has been named TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2018.

Inspired by the impact he has achieved through his own photography, Alam has also worked to empower others. He founded the Drik Picture Library, the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the best photography schools in the world. He also created the “Out of Focus” initiative, which teaches photography to underprivileged children.