Here’s what we know now about our first-ever photo contest. It will be open to everyone except Smithsonian Institution employees and their families. There will be six winners—one best in show and a winner in each of five categories: Americana, Nature and Wildlife, Science, the Arts and Travel. We will publish the winning entries and possibly a runner-up or two in the magazine. (Winners will also receive other still-to-be-determined prizes.) We will ask that all photographs—digital or film—be submitted as 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 prints; none will be returned. (If you’re one of the five finalists in each category, we’ll ask for high-quality prints for final judging; these will be returned.) We plan to publish details of the contest and how to enter it in our September issue. (Until then, no calls or queries, please.) Now get out there and start shooting.
When Andrew Lawler visited Iraq in the spring of 2002, the author of our piece on relics of Iraq’s ancient civilizations, or what’s left of them ("Saving Iraq’s Treasures"), was there to report on the effect of looting and a decade of crippling sanctions on archaeological sites. (He also found time to haunt Baghdad cafés, where he smoked a nargileh, or water pipe, played a lot of dominoes and drank countless glasses of sweet hot tea.) Security was a concern. One day he and a group of archaeologists piled into a car in Baghdad and headed for nearby Ctesiphon, home of the largest brick arch in the world. "But we had to pass by what was, everyone believed, a ‘secret’ nuclear facility. At a roadblock, we were stopped. Our driver, an Iraqi medical student, bribed our way through with a bottle of cologne. Though the car was full of foreigners, the guards didn’t bat an eye. Cologne trumped national security."
Kara Platoni took a ride of another sort on our behalf. Reporting on the difficulty of breeding elephants in captivity ("Great Expectations"), Platoni was interviewing staff members at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, California, when she was persuaded that thorough research required her to ride the next available pachyderm: "I soon found that you haven’t really experienced journalistic humiliation until you’ve sat, splay-legged, atop a lumbering elephant, attempting to interview your source by outshouting the screaming people on the roller coaster that is whipping by overhead, while trying not to drop your tape recorder on your interviewee’s head."