Mar 15 2012: Thirty Colour Photographs Of Brazil, Grenada, Martinique and Uruguay from National Geographic (1948)

After yesterday’s views of the British Isles from the perspective of post-war America, here’s a further selection of images from a few 1948 issues of National Geographic magazine, this time showing people and scenes from Brazil, Uruguay, Martinique and Grenada (the latter, of course, famously invaded by the US in 1983, though at the time of these photographs it was still under British rule: the island finally won independence from the UK in 1974). It’s not the shadow cast by future events that seems of most interest here, though, but the way that – as in the image above – the colour and modernity found alongside the local traditions and landscapes is always in an American guise: the skyline of Belo Horizonte is compared to Central Park, the popularity of dubbed Hollywood films is noted, the girls standing beside desert cacti or seen studying in a women’s university in Montevideo wear American fashions of the day, and stroll from or float in the clear oceans in bright American swimsuits. The message, that America is leading the world, is everywhere coded into these images, and it’s a message that resonated in countries still physically and economically devastated by the war that had only recently ended. To put it one way, the time these photographs were appearing in National Geographic was also the date of Eduardo Paolozzi’s early collages and the first meetings of the embryonic Independent Group. It’s likely that these pictures – and others very like them – lay behind much of the fascination with America that would come to dominate international culture over the coming decades. Between the war’s end and the mid-1960s, this was the material that would shape fashion, visual art, photography, advertising and aspiration across the West, and would inspire its own reflected competition even inside the Soviet Bloc, at least between the 1959 ‘kitchen debates’ of Nixon and Khrushchev and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The images seen here do undeniably reveal a propagandistic intention and some degree of patronisation of the nations and cultures shown: they also create a powerful sense of the possibilities open to the post-war world.

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