The Role of Imagery
on the development of
Popular Landscape Tourism by Jorge D. Goldfarb
Part I: The Early Landscape Posters
Around the last quarter of the 19th century the advertising poster made its appearance in vast amounts. Among the many commodities advertised through them there were travel destinations and, notably, their landscapes. For the first time landscapes were advertised as a commodity; their purpose was “to sell” particular landscapes as much as other posters were intended to sell a particular brand of soap or beer. Mass consumerism was giving its first steps and tourism and, with it, landscape tourism was not to be left behind.
Among the various business interests that could benefit from landscape tourism, the most organized were the railway companies and it was largely due to them that posters featuring “beautiful views” became ubiquitous. Workers will see them while waiting for transport, while having a drink at the local pub or bar or bistro, while shopping… nnearly everywhere. Nowadays, for us, the poster is just another gimmick of the many used to induce us to buy something; in those times however they were the main and most effective image-inducement device. Illustrations in newspapers were of poor quality and magazines carrying good quality images were out of reach for most of the public; that left the posters, a kind of imagery that could incorporate color and “artistic” design and that, through large scale mechanical reproduction, could be made to be ubiquitously present where they couldn't fail to call the attention of the public.
Examples of landscape posters promoted by railway companies of various European countries are shown below:
While browsing through these charming vintage posters one cannot fail to realize that, in spite of the wide variety of landscape types, they show one common feature: they depict wide open spaces. No matter whether they happen to depict seaside resorts or mountainous regions or lakes all of them offer the potential tourist the prospect of vast expanses. Seldom, the so-called intimate beauty of the countryside, is advertised for sale. It is very likely that the attraction of wide open spaces stemmed from the squalor and crowding that characterized workers quarters both in metropolis and industrial towns.
Looking at photos of those working class quarters, be it in Paris, Barcelona, Manchester or the Ruhr, one is stricken by the appalling conditions that prevailed till well into the 20th century. To stand by the seaside and being able to roam your eyes up a far away horizon, through spaces virtually devoid of human signs, except for the occasional graceful boat, must have been a unique experience for people accustomed to a daily view of rows upon rows of miserable houses and smoking chimneys. What for the elites might have been an aesthetic panorama, reminiscent of a poem or an artwork, for them must have been simply a deep relief for eyes, nostrils and souls.
Throughout the 20th century conditions of living gradually improved for the proletarians, at least in the developed countries. Social distinctions between lower and middle classes became somewhat blurred and consumerism appeared in full swing. Tourism became the largest business in the world and within it, landscape tourism reached huge proportions and even threateningthe survival of those very same landscapes. But the motivations behind contemporary popular landscape tourism are probably not much different from those at its humble beginnings. Looking back, might make it it easier to clarify the question of the role or place of the landscape within popular or mass culture.