Continuity and Change in the Visual Language of National Geographic: A Geographic and Image Analysis

Reference work entry


In 1993, the publication of Reading National Geographic brought academic attention to one of the world’s most widely circulated popular magazines. The authors, anthropologists Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, produced a book that was pathbreaking not only for its interrogation of the “work” and “power” of attractive photographs but also for its insights into how National Geographic is produced and the relations among photographers, writers, and editors. While Lutz and Collins focused their image analysis on the period from 1950 until 1986, this chapter attempts to extend their study. It begins by examining the topics and regions covered in National Geographic from 1990 through 2015. It also incorporates a visual analysis of a sample of the images in the feature articles appearing in the magazine during this time period. The conceptual framework for this chapter draws on representation and visuality, including the ways that photographs create and reflect certain ways of seeing. When Lutz and Collins wrote, globalization was, comparatively speaking, just gathering steam. Thus, a guiding concern involves determining the extent to which the magazine’s coverage of countries, regions, and non-Westerners has since changed. Overall, this study provides considerable support for the work of Lutz and Collins. Major findings call in to question their characterization of National Geographic’s depiction of non-Westerners as “gentle natives” and point to the ongoing use of images in the magazine that depict the world as a predominantly male place.


National Geographic Visual language Content analysis Representation Non-Western world 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  2. 2.Geography and AnthropologyHouston Community CollegeHoustonUSA
  3. 3.HoustonUSA
  4. 4.Ponca CityUSA

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