Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Joseph Feher, 'United Airlines: San Francisco"

This image of San Francisco is by Joseph Feher, who was best known for his artwork of Hawaii and Hawaiian people. Feher moved from Budapest in Hungary to the US in 1928 when he was twenty years old and began a career in commercial art and portraiture. In the late 1940s, however, he was commissioned by United Airlines to create a series of travel posters depicting different American cities.

I selected this image for analysis because I think the way that it represents a famous city is significant. It could be argued that famous cities are defined by specific places and objects rather than the people within them. In the case of San Francisco, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge and the famous view of the Oakland Bay Bridge with a cable car in the foreground have become synonymous with the city’s name. This latter view is what is depicted in Feher’s poster.

In previous weeks I have analysed images and questioned the notion of ‘reality’. This week, however, Feher’s advertisements should be read as images of fantasy. While this image advertises San Francisco, and therefore intends to attract tourists to the area, the picture also creates a sense of romanticism and desire. The use of bold colours is especially dream-like, which could hint at Feher’s view of the American city. As a European who moved to the US, he epitomises the notion of a person searching for and finding the American dream. Perhaps United Airlines deliberately chose a non-American to depict the key areas of the US because they knew that an outsider’s point of view would create an image that would appeal more to tourists. It is therefore worth speculating over whether a second or third generation American would paint these posters in the same way.

Finally, what happens if you see or describe a famous location without these iconic elements? For example, when I went to San Francisco in September 2010 it was extremely foggy for the entire trip. While the city – and the whole experience – was still fascinating, it did not feel complete because this is what I saw when visiting the Golden Gate Bridge:

Can I legitimately say that I have ‘seen’ San Francisco, without having visited and experienced every aspect of the city that makes it so easily recognisable? This further suggests that cities are defined by their landmarks more than the people that inhabit them. Joseph Feher’s other images for United Airlines support this idea; the image for Southern California, for example, consists of a highly populated city, suburban regions with Latin-American architecture, the coast and the mountains. These are not only what one would expect to see when visiting that region, but are also the aspects of the area that tourists would be most interested in seeing. The same can be said for the poster of San Francisco.

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