Reading Reading National Geographic

Reading Reading National Geographic - Reading Reading...

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Reading “Reading National Geographic” a book review by Cora McGovern Iezza © Copyright 1997 Many Americans have learned to appreciate other cultures by reading National Geographic. Authors Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins say they, like many other anthropologists, root their life's work in early experiences with the magazine. Their book, Reading National Geographic, examines how editorial decisions at the Geographic shape the content until it reflects American culture far more than those of the peoples it depicts. The book focuses on photographic images. One would think that photos reflect an existing reality. But Lutz and Collins show how reality is created for Geographic readers in its Washington D.C. executive board room long before the photographer boards his plane to capture far away places on film. "The photograph can be seen as a cultural artifact because its makers and readers look at the world with an eye that is not universal or natural but tutored. It can also be seen as a commodity, because it is sold by a magazine concerned with revenues. . . . This book traces how the magazine has floated in American cultural and political-economic currents of the post-World War II period and asks what the photographs tell us about the American-fashioned world". (p. xiii) Geographic tells stories with pictures. One prefers to think the pictures capture spontaneous moments. But in fact many are highly staged. The amount of time spent shaping these images before they are assigned to writers and photographers staggers the imagination. Top editors must "sell" story ideas to the board, who then decide the story's theme. Graphic editors then select a photographer for the job and explain the theme and what types of photos must be included in the thousands of shots that will be snapped. Writer and photographer work separately and often do not meet on location. When the away-from-home work is done, layout editors take weeks selecting, sizing and juxapositioning photos to ensure the pictures tell the story the editors intended -- regardless of the actual situation. Photos are manipulated electronically as well. In one photo of bare-breasted Polynesian women, the skin color was darkened. The authors note the overtly racist implications of this action. Women with light skin have not appeared topless in the magazine. This editorial decision is not lost on the public. Comedian Richard Pryor has called National Geographic “the Black man's Playboy.” Illustrating how the incredible resources of the magazine are used to recreate the Third World, Collins, who did her field work in South America, tells the story of how a Geographic photographer shooting an article on Latin America flew to one location, got a cab from the airport to a remote mountain village only to find the children were in school in another village. He took the cab to the school, gathered the children, took them home to change into costumes because he found their clothing too drab, and returned with them
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Reading Reading National Geographic - Reading Reading...

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