Pictures are a very emotive media, in whatever form, and everyone responds to them differently. Children love story books with pictures. It’s often our first way of learning, but do pictures always tell a story?
Look at this photograph for example. What does it suggest to you? What emotions does it evoke?
Who sprayed the graffiti? What’s the story behind the image? Is the person throwing a the molotov cocktail or just a beer bottle? Who came later and painted the red? (It was added a week after the original image had been sprayed.)
Does the mural below evoke the same emotions as the graffiti of the bottle thrower?
They’re both wall paintings, but entirely different in content and execution.The effect they have will reflect that difference, no matter what you think of them as individual images.
I was a painter before I was a writer so I respond to images very well. Leora Wenger makes an interesting comparison between the two in her recent post What Artists and Writers Share in Common. But irregardless of our artistic or scientific inclinations, we all have some response or other to visual imagery guided by our personalities and life experience. A drawing of a favorite cartoon character might fill you with nostalgia, or it could simply make you laugh.You might think everyone would smile at golden sunsets right? Wrong. It could evoke a sad memory or be perceived as too schmaltzy – a fuzzy Hallmark moment.
Artists of all types use images to get inspired and marketers use them to sell products. But they’re not always what they appear. Take a look at this image below. A jellyfish?
It’s actually an intricate antique glass model of a Portuguese Man-of-War (Physalia arethusa) The ‘float’ is about 55mm wide by 90mm long. Total height: 240mm. There are about two hundred tentacles made of thin coloured glass, supported and attached by fine copper wires. So things are not always as they seem.
Whatever reason you’re writing, the chances are you want to evoke a particular emotion in your readers, whether it’s appreciation of a new product, to create empathy for the issue you’re sharing, or stirring a call to action behind a social or political problem. Maybe you’re writing a love story, or trying to create a dystopia in which there’s a shortage food or oil. Perhaps the landscape has been changed by time or natural disaster. Looking at the imagery in a particular photograph, drawing or painting, can trigger an emotion we want to pass on to our readers, and helps us choose the right words to convey what we want to say.
If you’re a blogger or producing a catalog, you can break up a long section of text or literally illustrate what you’re talking about. Susan Cooper does this beautifully in her blog Findingourwaynow.com. Either way, give the reader a break. Give people an alternative way to look at the subject. Communication can often be more effective when more than one media is a play at the same time. I’ve explored this a little in my Musemedium posts.
Whatever your reason for using images, my question still stands. Does every picture tell a story? Generally speaking I think people like stories. No matter if bedtime stories are happy, scary or sad, they play an important part in our early lives. Many cultures use story-telling to pass down traditions and myths from one generation to another. In modern media that same tradition is being repeated, only in a different way. Now, for the most part, we look to moving images to spell things out for us.
Over to you. What do you think? Does every picture tell a story? Is the need to tell a story inherent in our makeup, as well as a source of inspiration? Or is a picture sometimes just a picture?
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