We caught up with Susan Goldberg, National Geographic’s first female editor and current editor in chief and a contributor to the new book Women: The National Geographic Image Collection. It includes 455 photographs of women gathered from the media company’s massive archives and serves as a great expression of how women’s lives have changed since National Geographic was founded in 1888. Goldberg penned the introduction as well as contributing interviews with several women, including Oprah Winfrey, Jane Goodall, Emma Gonzalez, Nancy Pelosi, Jacinda Ardern, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Laura Bush. Goldberg is a graduate of Michigan State and has been managing editor for the San Jose Mercury News and executive editor of Bloomberg’s Washington bureau, and she was the first woman at the Detroit Free Press to cover the governor and Legislature. “You would think that would have happened in 1934, but it was 1984. I think about that a lot. My career has unfolded on this sea of change,’’ Goldberg said in a recent phone interview.
What’s on your nightstand?
I have a few. I have Bob Iger’s new memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company and Learning From the Germans by Susan Neiman. It is about the rise of Nazism. It is both extremely good and rather depressing. I am not finished with that one yet. I also have Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. It’s a wonderful book. It’s all about our humanity. ... I would say my reading list is more nonfiction.
As a young reader, did you subscribe to National Geographic?
Yes, we always had a subscription in our house to National Geographic. My parents were voracious readers.
Why did you choose to put the collection Women together now?
The editorial team was talking about the fact that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote, and at the same time, we were talking about how we could cover what in fact is a global conversation going on in real time. In this country, it’s manifested as the #MeToo and #Timesup movements, but all over the world, women are demanding and getting their rights recognized in increasing ways. We stepped back and used the unparalleled archives to show this history of female empowerment. We also have pictures of women who are not empowered, who are not allowed to speak up. You go through that historic march on how women were pictured and depicted at different times, and it is incredible. If you go back to the 1920s, you see women often depicted as beautiful and exotic objects, and then you get to the 1940s and 1950s, you have smiley pictures where women are being used almost as products of themselves. Then, once you hit the 1960s and 1970s, you see women doing all kinds of things. You see women working and often doing jobs that before were being done by men. An interesting piece to this that has struck me is how the earlier photos were taken by men and, as you go through time, you see more and more female photographers. I think it’s fair to say men and women look at the world in different ways and see and capture images differently.