National Geographic: Celebrate 125 Years with 3 Iconic Photographs

Annie Griffiths on the Human Universal

Cambodian Villagers Celebrate a Fresh Water Well, circa 1990s

"I do a tremendous amount of aid work. So I like covering aid programs that are helping out, especially in rural communities. This photo was taken in a rural part of Cambodia that had been completely decimated by the war. It was an area of tremendous landmine clean-up and the rice fields and a lot of the basic infrastructure for agriculture had been destroyed. They continue to rebuild. It’s not over yet.

"In this particular village, this wonderful aid organization called CWS had come in to help them rebuild their community. They work in some 60 countries around the world, and they had come to help the villagers with the rice fields. But they’d also become aware that so many of the kids were getting sick because of bad water. So they were drilling wells, too.

"That photograph was taken the moment the well was complete and the kids saw fresh water coming out of the ground for the first time. What was cool was they did exactly what my kids would do! They started splashing in it and squealing with delight.

"That universal truth that happens in different cultures — when it happens just the way you knew it would happen, but on the other side of the world, it’s thrilling. I think it kind of speaks to who we are and what things delight us or terrify us. And that was one of those moments where I just looked and these could have been in Detroit playing in a fire hydrant. Those kinds of situations remind me of how hopeful people are. When you see it in front of you, it just kind of restores your faith in all kinds of things.

"Shortly after that picture was taken I got to photograph and elderly Cambodian man and he brought a bucket and took the first shower of his life. He just held this bucket above his head and poured clean, fresh water over himself. It was very sweet. Still the best thing for me is that the photograph has been used for that aid organization to raise funds for their programs. I’m happiest when my photographs are useful as well as beautiful." — As told to Christie’s

To explore more iconic National Geographic images from Christie’s exclusive collection of rare and beautiful prints, visit the online auction from July 19 to 29. For more on this and other online-only sales, see