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Photographer's Peripatetic Life Is a Family Affair

Apr 27, 2008 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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For National Geographic photographer Annie Griffiths Belt, the perfect packing material for cameras is — diapers.

The award-winning photojournalist and mother of two says even after her children were toilet-trained, she still made use of diapers because they fit around her camera lenses like a glove. And she has carried them to places around the globe during her 30-year career at the magazine.

One of the first female photographers hired at National Geographic, Belt documents her peripatetic life as a photographer and mother in a new book, A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel: My Journey in Photographs.

Belt, who was hired in 1978, and her husband, Don, a writer at the magazine, decided that their children should accompany Belt on most of her photo assignments. With the help of dedicated nannies and a hefty sense of adventure, Belt took Lily and Charlie around the world in their younger years. She found that even in the most remote parts of the planet, her role as a mother opened doors.

"People wonder if I would have access in the Middle East, and whenever I've been in a culture that's divided by gender, to me it's a huge advantage." Belt says during a conversation with Liane Hansen. "There are so many male photographers out there covering the guys, but let me tell you, the girls are having a good time."

From Jordan to the Galapagos Islands and beyond, Belt's children joined in her adventures, sometimes missing school for weeks at a time. The family experienced joyful moments — and dangerous ones — along the way. There were bear encounters at Yellowstone National Park and brushes with sharks in the Galapagos, and Belt says she and her husband routinely weighed the risks of exposing their children to exotic locales.

Eventually, academic demands made it impossible for her children to go globetrotting, and Belt eventually found her career taking off in new directions. Today, in addition to her work as a National Geographic photographer, she is an author and speaker. And Lily and Charlie are now 18 and 15, respectively.

Belt says A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel is testament to the fact that mothers, especially, can fulfill their dreams.

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