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Catherine Louise Waibel

Photo Reportages in Travel Magazines — Analysis of Photo Motifs

Touristic travels have become an important part of today’s lifestyle. Consequently, travel magazines have gained great importance in the magazine market. My Master’s thesis project focuses particularly on the photo reportages found in travel magazines, as they represent the initial contact with a travel destination. I was curious to find out which aspects of a foreign culture are highlighted in these kinds of photo reportages. After a first examination of travel magazines, where I found that foreign cultures were mainly encountered in Asian, African, and South American countries, I was wondering if there were any differences regarding the depiction of Western cultures, mainly in European and North American countries. For this reason, I decided to also concentrate on photo reportages representing Western cultures in order to draw a comparison at the end.

Thus, with the help of theoretical findings based on a review of the respective literature, I carried out a qualitative analysis of the contents of photo reportages published by five popular travel magazines. While I analyzed twenty travel reports, including Western and non-Western travel destinations, I focused on the motifs by exploring their pictorial meaning within an interpretative procedure. Interestingly, the results of this analysis demonstrated that travel magazines are showing a restricted perspective of the realities of foreign cultures. Foreign worlds are mainly reduced to their aesthetical aspects or their beautiful appearance respectively. For instance, “nature” motifs are strongly represented in the analyzed photo reportages, in some cases even offering the typical images of a “paradise”. Nevertheless, the results of this investigation also showed that there is no significant distinction between Western and non-Western countries regarding the motifs depicted in the photo reportages of the chosen travel magazines. Personally, I expected a more pronounced distinction, especially after encountering a few statements in the literature I reviewed that claimed a very different look at foreign cultures.

Beside the extensive analysis and theoretical work, I also dealt with a small practical project. The main goal was to find out how I could possibly depict Switzerland as a travel destination, by taking my own photographs of Swiss touristic locations and creating analogies to the motifs I encountered in my analysis. As a result, two photo series presenting a rural and an urban destination were created, namely focussing on the Rigi Mountain and the medieval town of Murten. While some photographs of my final photo series represent some analogies to the motifs I evaluated in my analysis, I also found some interesting photo motifs, which were somewhat unlikely to be published by a travel magazine. Still, these motifs have an important visual impact at these touristic locations and, therefore, are essential elements of the identity of the Rigi and Murten. For instance, while travel magazines are mainly focusing on the locals, I mainly encountered other tourists on the Rigi. Hence, my final photo series result in a discrepancy between the things we see in travel magazines and the things we experience when travelling.

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