Review: “A World Brightly Different: Photographic Conventions”

May 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

“A World Brightly Different: Photographic Conventions” discusses idealization of the non-Western world as seen in National Geographic photography. By analyzing samples of National Geographic photographs taken between 1950 and 1986, authors Lutz and Colliers identify conventions used by photojournalists to present the non-Western world in an exotically romanticized light. Lutz and Colliers describe how the photographers take special care to portray non-Westerners as a simple, happy type of people, caught in a timeless, unchanging society and one with the natural world. Unpleasant images are often either understated or omitted altogether. Extra effort is also taken to humanize the non-Westerners as individuals, to make them more relatable to the Western audience, paradoxically resulting in efforts to strip them of their culture to depict oneness of humanity while embellishing it to create a sense of exotic beauty. As a result, the magazine has succeeded in presenting the rest of the world as “happy, classless people outside of history… edged with exoticism and sexuality, but knowledgeable to some degree as individuals”

This portrayal of the non-Western world as beautiful and romantic makes it easier to fascinate the Western audience and convince them that they both understand and appreciate other cultures of the world. But in truth, National Geographic in truth makes their audience ignorant and naïve about other cultures by ignoring the more unpleasant or less beautiful aspects of life.  Attempts to depict cultures as unchanged may only reinforce stereotypes, and disregards the fact that these cultures have evolved through the years. I think that if we are to truly understand the rest of the world, the media should depict the world frankly, and show us both the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

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§ 2 Responses to Review: “A World Brightly Different: Photographic Conventions”

  • ethnolust says:

    Nice work. It’s important to remember that the ways that we have become familiar with the world are, in many ways, part of creating fictions that have long histories. Importantly, they did and continue to play a role in the ways that we choose to deal with other people and the rest of the world. Finding beauty in the world is important, but we should remember that consumers are only experiencing limited representations without understanding the limitations of these world views.

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