Review: “A World Brightly Different: Photographic Conventions 1950-1986”

May 29, 2011 § 4 Comments

National Geographic, one of the most vivid magazines, is an excellent display of what Americans would call exotic culture. It has thrived throughout generations by providing lively photos and information about the world and their cultures that not many Americans have experienced. In respect to the magazine, the article, “A World Brightly Different: Photographic Conventions 1950-1986”, explores the photography of National Geographic and analyzes it in terms of the appearance of non-Western culture. According to the article, the magazine often features working environments, cultural attire, rituals, and naturalization within the photos. Moreover, it touches the few aspects of photography such as the smile and the portrait in the photos as well as the influence of the introduction of color photography.

Reading the article, the most interesting topic of photography was the rituals. The topic struck me for two main reasons. First, the relationship among anthropology, photography, and rituals was mesmerizing. Anthropology, as I understand it, is the study of men and their past in respect to the present society. Rituals are, in a way, a connection between the past and the present and so is photography. Photographs allow readers to travel back to the past and re-experience the memories as anthropology and rituals come from the understanding of the past from the present. I thought that this was an amusing relationship among the very different but similar components of our course.

Second, the reader’s response when viewing the ritual photos was intriguing. As rituals are mostly religious, I have always associated rituals with personal beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. However, according to the article, photos of people performing their rituals flatten the emotional life of the people who are depicted in the photographs. “This is because the ritual procession can be seen as a routine that people follow rather than as an expression of individual and group faith”. Although I did not fully agree with it initially, I came to understand the meaning of the flattening effect when the article mentioned the example about a funeral. Unless the photograph is presented in a way intended to evoke emotion, the simple procession of a funeral does not necessary bring the viewer grief. The facial expression, the clothes, and the attitude seem more like a display rather than an emotional event.



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