Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Visual Literacy

Over the past several years I have taught a course that has varied in title from "Color to Black and White" to "Visual Literacy and the Digital Workflow."  The change in title effectively came about half way through the first time I taught the class when I realized that the students were more interested in "what and why" I did something to an image rather than "how."

I came to the epiphany that most of them sort of recognized a good image when they saw it but were incapable of looking at a "raw" image and deciding what it needed.  I concluded that this was the result of a several of factors.

  • they had never looked at good work critically and tried to understand why it was good
  • they had never considered what they wanted the people who view their work to take away from the experience
  • they lacked the technical understanding of the visual effects that could be used to render an image better

The software is a tool.  It is not a substitute for a lack of vision.  Teaching "how" is a lot easier than teaching "why."  To some degree I'm not sure it can be taught as much as it can be encouraged.

Every time I teach the class I emphasize the importance of really looking at a lot of work.  It's important to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.  What is good to me might not be good to them but they should understand why they like an image and what has been done to that image to make it a strong image for them.

I like ambiguity.  For me, images can be too easy.  There is nothing left to discover or reinvent.  The first time I look at an image I will know everything there is to know about that image.  For me, this may make a beautiful image but it many hold no long-term commitment to the image.  There is nothing left to discover after the first few time I look at it.  This may just be me, but it's the way I am.

That doesn't mean that someone else might feel differently about the image.

The Accidental Masterpiece

“There are no accidental masterpieces in painting, but there are accidental masterpieces in photography” – Chuck Close