Mar 17 2012: Twenty-Six Colour Photographs Showing Scenes In Belgium And Portugal (National Geographic, 1948)

The penultimate gallery of images from a handful of 1948 issues of National Geographic magazine take us from England, the subject of the first, to its near neighbours Belgium and Portugal, whose landscapes, people and cultures are framed in strikingly similar ways: where England had a dog delivering newspapers, Belgium has then pulling carts of bread and milk, and just as Portugal has Catholic processions so Belgium’s more eccentric street life is underscored and given prominence here. With human quirks and religious devotion in the foreground, the next step is to feature business heavily, and stress the value of stability in government (here represented, not entirely persuasively, by the Franco-style figure of António de Oliveira Salazar and his repressive, occasionally murderous and generally undemocratic regime, which presumably won plaudits from the National Geographic  for holding the line against socialism), while considering archaic customs colourful and blithely ignoring any major issues in the nation under examination. If England’s transition to the post-war welfare state was lost to the article by omission, so Portugal’s lack of democracy in 1948 seems of little concern. Belgium was, at least, democratic, hence the slightly fuller account of its post-war life, though again, it’s the mannikin’s outfits, the folklore and religious parades (the things, in short, that show Europe to be lagging behind the United States in so many ways) that while not looking much like traditional propaganda, nonetheless serve a highly directive purpose when we turn the magazine’s pages.


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