Fantasy vs. Reality: Images of Tourism

American society is literally flooded, and quite possibly drowning in messages like “buy this” or “spend your next vacation here” or “vote for your favorite idol.” I truly believe that if we printed a comprehensive the list of messages communicated just to Americans with a particular focus on messages of an advertising nature, the list would stretch at minimum from east coast to west coast. When we broaden this assertion and apply it to images, which are in the most basic form visual communication, and the notion that all images communicate some sort of message (Helmers p. 26), it is arguable that the printed list could easily wrap itself all the way around the world and back. My point is, that as a student of communication and as an individual who is highly interested in the meaning, purpose, and resulting potential and actual outcomes of messages sent across a wide variety of mediums, I intend to use this blog not just as a means to complete an assignment for a class but as a vehicle to more deeply examine the extreme importance of visual communication and to further apply my findings to reflect on past, present, and future experiences.

I am particularly interested in images that create the sense of “picturing place.” According to Helmers, “Often when we look at a photograph or a painting of a place, we look through its flat surface to the reality beyond. We treat the image as a window rather than as something created by an artist or amateur at a particular time for a specific reason,” (p. 60). Thus, I will preface my analysis of the photograph included in this blog by noting that the photograph was a part of a tourism advertisement that I received via e-mail. Before briefly discussing my interpretation of the image through the construct of picturing place mentioned previously, it is necessary to make a first attempt at properly analyzing the image through the constructs of visual communication analysis. The first of these constructs is to record my initial impression.

Cliffs of Moher : Irish Tourism Promotional Photo

Oftentimes, when presented with advertisements, I am inclined to ignore the image; however, I was immediately intrigued to more closely examine the photograph due to its aesthetic nature and my personal familiarity with the content of the photograph. After a matter of seconds, I was able to process and piece together first, where this photograph was taken, and second, what was depicted in the photograph. To answer the former, the photograph was taken in Ireland, and to answer the latter, the photograph depicts a man and woman sitting on what appears to be the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. But I am getting ahead of myself because placing the image in context is step two. To continue with initial, and essentially split second impressions, I immediately felt a sense of peace and tranquility while examining the photograph and additionally I interpreted the photograph to be amiable in nature. Because of this initial impression, I was compelled to continue to examine the photograph and put it in to context. My initial impression of the photograph as amiable and thus desirable for further examination is due in part to my initial observation that the man and woman depicted are seated and smiling. My secondary observation that supports the notion that the photograph is amiable in nature is the design content of the photograph, including the soft colors, warm lighting, the inclusion of a calm sea, and the mere fact that if nothing else, this is a nature shot which are typically meant to illicit positive emotions.

As far as the context of the photograph (step two in the analysis process) I have identified where and what the photograph depicts; however, to begin to fully analyze the purpose of the photograph, there are other questions that must be answered. First, I must address who created the image. Though there is no direct link to the actual photographer, I do know that this image was produced by a photographer who traveled to Ireland and who was either commissioned by the International Irish Tourism Board or who simply took a photograph of the Cliffs of Moher and gave/sold the image to the Board. There is no date on the photograph; however, judging by the high quality of the image, and the clothing worn by the individuals in the photograph, the image was most likely taken within the last five to ten years. The date on the website page is 2010, thus, the image was taken either sometime in 2010 or in years prior. Because this is an image on the internet featured on a website and not in say, an art gallery or in a newspaper with an exact date, it is difficult to decipher the original date of publication or even location of publication; therefore, it is also a challenge to address the question of who was the original intended audience. I can; however, deduce that the current intended audience is former, current, and potential tourists or individuals who are interested in Ireland, and more specifically who are interested in tourists sites in Ireland. It is important to note, that the final element of putting the image in to context asks if there is a title or caption that explains the subject of the image. There is, in fact a caption that depicts the location and general content of the photograph. However, there is an important point to be made about the caption related to the entire content of the photograph. While the photo is clearly the Cliffs of Moher, the man and woman in the photograph are not explained. While on the surface level this it is understandable that the man and woman are not explained, I want to quickly revisit this  idea  we often forget that images are often created and are not simply a window in to the landscape. As in this man and woman are not inherently there because they were placed there for the photograph.

You may be wondering, why on earth is she still writing? I promise I am almost finished. I simply want to make the commentary that this image is the perfect example of how the messages that images transmit can cause us to think all sorts of things due to this notion that images are often created. It is my belief that the intent of this photograph was to attract visitors to go to the Cliffs of Moher by saying “look how beautiful this place is,” due to the nature of the photo and the general reaction of the individuals in the photo, and second, they are saying “you can do what these people in the photograph are doing.” My point of all of this, is that there is a solid difference between the fantasy image of the Cliffs of Moher created in this photo and the actual reality of this location. You might be thinking, “how does she know this?” I know this because I have been there and there are a number of flaws in the content that an individual who had not visited this location would not catch. First, the Cliffs of Moher are always, incredibly windy so the attire of the individuals is questionable. Second and most importantly, visitors to the Cliffs of Moher are in no way, shape or form allowed to be that close to the edge of the cliffs due to the fact that there is a preventative wall. Though this is just my opinion, I truly believe that this image uses the idea of “picturing place” to create a fantasy of what the experience will actually be. I am excited to delve further in to the nine other steps of visual communication analysis so that somewhat wild assertions (like the ones I have just made) will be academically supported instead of just supported by personal experience.

I want to conclude by apologizing to my professor for the length of this post. I promise that in the future, I will curb my enthusiasm and try to stick more to the actual assignment. I also would like to say that I am not trying to bash visiting the Cliffs of Moher–it was truly incredible. I simply wanted to point out, by way of a giant leap from my personal analysis within the first two constructs of visual communication analysis to the last two constructs which involve considering the effects on the viewer and ultimately my interpretation, that the image is an excellent example of how businesses take liberties or “artistic license” to illicit a desired response from an audience.



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