Today, the National Geographic Society has appointed American artist Maya Lin and Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam as National Geographic Explorers at Large.
The title, which comes with opportunities as ambassadors for the National Geographic Society and support for continuing their impactful work, is bestowed on a select few global changemakers and thought leaders––including other National Geographic legends like Bob Ballard, Rodrigo Medellín, Sylvia Earle, and the late Thomas Lovejoy.
“For 134 years, the National Geographic Society has been recognized for its storytelling capabilities, and we want to use that superpower to drive impact globally,” said Kaitlin Yarnall, the Society’s chief storytelling officer. “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 access to additional grant opportunities from the Society to support work that’s aligned with our mission to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
About Maya Lin
An artist, sculptor, and designer, Lin may be one of the most recognized names in architecture. Her first great 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 a unique multi-disciplinary career for herself and earned tremendous recognition: a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and exhibitions in prestigious museums like the Smithsonian Institution.
In 2019, the Society funded Lin to finalize a long-term project called What is Missing––a poetic, engaging ecological memorial that illuminates the species and places we have lost, and highlights what we might save if we are brave enough to make the right changes.
“I see myself existing between boundaries, a place where opposites meet; science and art, art and architecture, East and West. My work originates from a simple desire to make people aware of their surroundings,” Lin wrote in her book Boundaries.
About Shahidul Alam
For over 40 years, Alam has demonstrated the power of storytelling to drive impact, and yet it was something of a happy accident that he became a photographer in the first place. Alam was traveling through North America in 1980 when a friend asked him to buy a camera, but couldn’t reimburse him––so Alam began using it. He started as a children’s portrait photographer while he studied to become a research chemist, and eventually recognized that effective images could fuel activism.
“Through a photograph, I could transform a statistic into a person,” Alam said during National Geographic’s Storytellers Summit in 2020.
When he returned to Bangladesh in 1984, Alam became a dedicated photojournalist, documenting the democratic struggle to remove the country’s autocratic ruler. Over time, his photographs of life in Bangladesh––including social and political conditions and the environment––became well known in his country and around the world. His work was featured by major western media outlets like The New York Times, displayed in prestigious museums like the Tate Modern in London, and he was named TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2018.
Inspired by the impact he achieved through his own photography, Alam worked to empower others as well. He founded the Drik Picture Library, the Chobi Mela International Photography Festival, and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute––considered one of the world’s finest schools of photography. He also created the “Out of Focus” initiative, which teaches disadvantaged children about photography.