Geografía y cultura visual: Los usos de las imágenes en las reflexiones sobre el espacio ed. by Carla Lois and Verónica Hollman (review)
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Geografía y cultura visual: Los usos de las imágenes en las reflexiones sobre el espacio. Carla Lois and Verónica Hollman (eds.). Rosario: Universidad Nacional de Rosario and Prohistoria ediciones, 2013. 444 pp., photographs, illustrations, notes, bibliographies. $35.00 paper (ISBN 978-987-1855-36-0).

This edited collection of sixteen essays innovatively explores the ways in which geography and visual cultures intersected in modern Argentina. The editors embarked upon an ambitious, interdisciplinary, and theoretically sophisticated project. The authors deliver a broad panorama of case studies, laying before our eyes an array of printed and manuscript maps, charts, scientific travel narrative illustrations, photographs, post cards, exhibitions, cinema, meteorological prognostications, plans for telegraph lines, and, perhaps most significantly, their common effort to make the printed word hold, interpret, and convey space. The volume weaves together the apparent heterogeneity of the sources into four overarching themes: geographic education and visual instruction; imagined geographical contours of the nation; the consumption of geography through entertainment and cultures of consumption; and the role images can play as scientific records of geographic explorations.

Although focused on cases relating to Argentina, the volume speaks to a common modern anxiety: the need to make one person’s individual and evanescent experience seeing the world shareable, transcending the spatial and temporal boundaries that separate us as humans – a need that is necessarily a modern cultural phenomenon. The spaces of Argentine schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were themselves frozen into idealized European-like spaces of modernity through photographs intended for universal exhibitions. The geography lessons Argentine students learned in the classroom from 1880-2006 turned to visual materials in ways that allowed for evolving techniques of visual discipline, teaching eyes to see universally, as global citizens of a fragile ecological world with a moveable geographic center. Moving images in film became a key part of this classroom process.

From the Argentine education system’s contained space, the essays trace the forging of the Argentine nation as a country of regions within the space of individual minds. National census statistics tables, maps and photographs from 1869 to 2001 reveal the continuing governmental effort to order and control the regions it actively produced. Early twentieth-century directors of Argentine museums debated how to categorize anthropological collections, and geo-ethnic regional categories most prominently configured how Argentine audiences encountered their human past. Late nineteenth-century Welsh [End Page 281] agricultural colonization of Patagonia left clear traces in photographs, maps, and poems, materials that reveal very different ways of imagining a region integral yet indomitable in the eyes of urban Buenos Aires elites. Despite regional variations, and disparate colonizing cultures, by 1901 industrialists sought to display the growing wealth of a united nation through photographs and statistics at the Universal Exhibition held in Buffalo in 1901, further attracting US investors. Carla Lois’s innovative study, involving hundreds of interviews with Argentines who were asked to draw a map of the country, demonstrates that despite all the political and institutional capital that went in to instilling stable national and regional imaginaries, the national silhouette – much like telenovelas and other cultural productions – is consumed differently with respect to an individual’s age, education, and relative engagement with political processes, challenging ideas about the stability of ‘the map as logo.’

By reconstructing how images of places are produced, reproduced, circulated, and consumed, the third section helps bring that which is distant closer to the reader’s eyes. Stitching together variations in copies of hand-drawn maps during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries make visible a palimpsest of spatial knowledge, including how it was reworked and re-inscribed on printed maps. Contemporary meteorological maps, on the other hand, make larger-scale natural processes invisible to the human eye visible, a tangible transformation that informs the decisions we make about the experience we chose to have in a particular place. Production and consumption of images could also silence and erase, as was the case with the silent film El ultimo malón (1917) which brought to viewers’ eyes the indigenous Mocoví rebellion in San Javier (Santa Fe Province) as an isolated moment, eliding a long history of forced...