Prior to last year, I don’t think I ever considered images a method of communication. I knew they had the ability to communicate an idea or a thought, or even helped viewers feel certain emotions, but I don’t know that I actually surveyed the individual elements in images and pieced together how exactly these images helped communicate a bigger thought or idea. Furthermore, most commercial images involve many decisions. I now have this new hobby, where I sit and stare at an image for many minutes and dream about all of the itty bitty decisions made during its creation.
Images, however, can be very slippery as they can be skewed by small comments or commentary, and a particular image can provide a meaning to one person, yet an entirely different one to another. One thing I’ve learned this week, is the need for usability or field-testing on images. If you have a particular message in mind, it’s important that you take that image on the road, so to speak, and make sure that the vast majority is seeing what you intend.
I took a particular interest in the Ted talk that we watched in class on Monday. This was the one with the photographer who visited Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. I was particularly interested in the spin that he had taken while photographing the garbage dump and people who lived near it. He saw beauty and happiness among the people there and wanted to photograph that beauty. Images can do this in a way that video cannot. Most people would look at video of people living among a burning dump and think of nothing but pity. Still images, however, can freeze happiness and beauty.
I visited India five years ago. For the first few days I did nothing but obsess over the poverty and filth upon which these poor people were forced to live. I’d shed a tear here and there and feel tremendous guilt over my relative wealth. After about five days, however, I was struck dumb with the reality of my self-righteous and self-absorbed thought process. Why do I think that these people need what I have to be happy? They don’t. Poverty doesn’t necessarily make people unhappy. How, exactly, did I discover this? By looking at my own images.