Abstract

This is a close study of the LIFE photo-essay "A Writer's Land of Primitive, Eloquent Beauty: Storied World of Africa" (1961) by Eliot Elisofon. His double-faced essay contains eighteen photos, which he took during extended travel on the continent in September-December 1959, and fourteen literary extracts from the Western canon that accompany the visual material. I identify the socio-political context and the visual/literary conventions within which the photos were taken, explore the photo-essay's racist storytelling and panoptic and mythological viewing of Africa, and allege, tentatively, the LIFE essay's duplicitous role in Cold War American politics of the time. The LIFE essay solidified time-worn mythological concepts of Africa championing them as pseudo-historical facts with particular regions as their strongholds. East Africa was depicted as Animal Eden; Apartheid's South Africa, as balanced Boer Freedom; Congo, as the Land of Savagery; West Africa, as Nakedness. The purpose of the LIFE essay, I demonstrate, was to trivialize and demonize the post-colonial process in Africa. Eliot Elisofon's 1959 trip contained three other projects, two of which (a coverage of "new" Nigeria and extensive aerial expeditions) were implicated in the same LIFE narrative of Cold War stewardship. I discuss these two only provisionally.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2044
Print ISSN
0034-5210
Pages
pp. 84-105
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-18
Open Access
No
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