thinking with pictures

Too many pictures?

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Images have proliferated together with the mobile phone equipped with lens for still and moving pictures. Only a decade or so in the past it seemed functionally conflicted to add instamatic-quality cameras to phones. Now quality is much better and phone users have grown comfortable with leaving purpose-built cameras at home, except for specific events or picture taking projects. The upshot is that text lacking in picture comes to seem threadbare, as if the proven authorial power to Paint Pictures with Words is defunct. Not only do readers expect images to be part of any communication or declaration, but by the glut of visual information there is less power in what once was a treat or specially added expression supplemental to the text. And so I ask: are there too many pictures?
Once an elderly staffer of the city library in rural west Japan told me that color had become so common to daily experience that the older generations living in tones of wood, grass, soil and a few standard colors of black, white, browns and other natural dyes have given over to people today living in visual landscapes of neon and all sorts of plastic structures, signage, and synthetic fabrics. The result is the beauty of a blossom or the artistic forces of silkwork in kimono is lost among all the riot of colors everywhere.
Maybe the same is true of photos. Instead of savoring a single shot, black and white or in full color, we rapidly browse through dozens before anything stops us in our tracks, either by its capture of a certain glint of light, or by its arresting composition, conceptual collage, or some curiosity about its location and subject matter. What to do about de-sensitivity to visual express? Do without for a while; sort of like fasting, but in visual terms. And the practices of mindfulness (e.g. eating with focused and full mind) that Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists advocate may point the way to deeper visual appreciation of one’s surroundings, including the ones that call out for photo capture and sharing and reflection by others.


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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