It's the eyes that get you.
From the Nevada rancher's daughter on the cover to the haunting look of the Afghan woman who once graced the cover of National Geographic magazine, and to the Polynesian woman ready for the fish dance - they meet your glance with strength and earnestness and, most of all, reality.
They are just three examples of the people who come to life in National Geographic's latest coffee-table book, "In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits."
The renowned magazine has scoured a century's worth of photo files to fill this massive volume. And while a few pictures are quickly passed by, most bring the reader to pause, and a good many result in a lingering study of the people, places and time they represent.
The decision to use photographs helped transform National Geographic from an academic journal of limited circulation into one of the most popular monthlies in the country and one that is sold around the world in several languages.
In this weighty tome, the editors define "portrait" as a picture of one or more people, and then use those looks at humanity to illustrate the times and places it has visited - including some admitting about how the magazine fell victim to stereotypes of the times, yet still managed to collect an outstanding look at humanity.
"A fine portrait has the potential to tell something about the spirit of the subject that can be sensed by someone half a world and a different language away," writes William Albert Allard, one of the authors of five essays in the volume.
Indeed, that happens page after page. More often than not, the communication occurs between page and reader as eyes meet and, somehow, seem to understand one another, at least for a moment.
Allard is also one of more than 150 photographers whose work is reproduced in the volume.
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