Colloque, 23 octobre 2010

Imagining the United States in the Photojournalism of Paris Match, 1949-1953

Edward Timke
Imaginaires du présent: Photographie, politique et poétique de l’actualité, événement organisé par Vincent Lavoie et Mirna Boyadjian

In March 1949, French media mogul Jean Prouvost launched Paris Match to be a French language equivalent of the U.S. American magazine Life that could carry its weight through its mixture of large photographs and accompanying pithy prose. In Paris Match’s infancy, France faced a turbulent, exciting period of reconstruction and reconciliation after the Second World War, which was bolstered by cultural, economic, and political assistance from the United States government’s Marshall Plan (1948-1953). During this moment of intense Franco-American exchange, large photographs and journalistic essays about American life and culture appeared regularly in the magazine to build a French imaginary of the United States as well as what it meant to be French on the brink of a new era.

This presentation assesses how Paris Match represented certain aspects of everyday life in the United States during and after the Marshall Plan period. Through the magazine’s representations of the independent, miserable American woman, American schools of life and wealth, and racial and economic inequalities on the American landscape, the United States was an appealing yet disturbing example for French anxieties about modernization, new forms of consumerism, changing roles of women, and rising racial and ethnic tensions at home and abroad.

To draw out these themes, this presentation builds from the perspectives of Walter Lippmann’s cultural stereotypes, Benedict Anderson’s imagined national communities, Maria Todorova’s discussion of national identity construction through representations of an “other” culture, and Peter Hamilton’s analysis of French postwar photography as a paradigmatic mechanism reshaping notions of Frenchness. Through this combination of perspectives applied to an extensive textual and visual analysis of Paris Match between March 1949 and May 1955, photojournalism is seen as more than an engaging form of news that is readily accessible for readers and viewers to consume. Photojournalism also has penetrative qualities through its combination of text with oversized photos that may afford a certain construction of one’s cultural reality and sense of national and cultural self.

Edward Timke is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan where he researches the role of media in shaping Franco-American identities and relations.  Before Michigan, Edward served as a manager of exchanges between American, French, and Swiss universities at ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs) in Washington, DC.

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