thinking with pictures

Picture first or text first?

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clipart of easel for picture making

picture first?

picture of non-Latin keyboard: Tamil, a Dravidian language of S. India

words first?








Very often when putting together a slideshow or writing an essay, the images play a supporting role; that is, they follow from the statements made or questions posed. Or they could be a prompt from which the verbal elaboration stems. Less commonly the images lead and the patterns that they convey are then spelled out derivately from the images. So when there is a big pool of images such as a photo sharing site like flickr or picasaweb, or the physical equivalent found in a stack of back issues to National Geographic Magazine or pile of books pulled from the section for photography, then one can rapidly browse through the pictures. One may begin to discern a pattern to the images that arrest one’s attention; the combination of subject, light and color, framing and moment of shutter release that speaks to one somehow.

At times perhaps only part of the picture makes sense or speaks the language one can understand and respond emotionally or intellectually to. But at other times the whole thing articulates something meaningful and possibly beyond the power of words to describe. In that sense the artful bringing together of the elements that compose the image is similar to religion: it allows communication that goes beyond the spoken or written channel.

There is a winnowing process that takes place when browsing a stream of photos or the lived experiences in the stream of one’s life, whether recorded by camera lens or by notebook or memory alone. This filtering of meaning from dross is similar to the power of social media: human eyes and minds determine which materials are relatively high or low value. And by keeping records of what things (photographs, youtube videos, slideshare presentations, website search results) then the vast ocean of material can be usefully and incrementally sorted into that which has more meaning or less meaning relative to the rest of the materials.

So the next time your eye is drawn to a scene or you venture out with camera in hand in search of light and composition and juxtaposition, consider whether you are seeking an illustration to an idea or statement or question that is in your mind (picture as visual embodiment to verbal notion), or whether the image is primary and the verbal part follows and supports that compelling visual statement. Does the picture speak to you, or does it instead echo what was written or spoken beforehand?


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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