Thursday, April 15, 2010

"A picture is always more powerful than mere words. What is your view?"

An A' Level essay I did in 2008, mirrored from my main site. It is by no means perfect, but I feel that it is pretty damned good.

Q: "A picture is always more powerful than mere words. What is your view?"

There is a never-ending war of words between the believers who think words are more powerful than pictures and those who feel otherwise. It is a foolish argument, for each has its merits and shortcomings; prudence would only dictate that we utilise both mediums to their strengths. I must, however, for the sake of comparison, say that the picture currently has the upper hand, even if it is quickly losing its ground.

Certain forms of imagery are highly realistic, with photographs and fine art being prime examples. Photographs are deemed by many people as a powerful form of communication, as it replicates every detail, every emotion perfectly. They strike a chord close to each viewer's heart for viewers see an event, a person, instead of mere brush strokes or picture frames. This often has an effect of amplifying anything the image depicts, and increases the ability to evoke emotions such as shock, happiness and depression. With the literal, the message it tries to pass along is limited by the imagination of the reader or the language ability of the author. Pictures have the ability to raise the threshold levels of its viewers, while readers can only imagine what words are trying to convey. You need a heart of stone to say that pictures of Japanese videographer Kenji Nagai being shot in Burma, the Hindenburg as an inferno or the solemn yet triumphant raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima fail to move you. You, however, need only an ignorant mind to claim that these events, if described in words, fail to bring about any emotion in you.

Pictures also reign supreme over words in the efficiency section. Barring moving imagery such as animation, still images can be quickly understood and analysed by the viewer. This multiplies its power, as more people might have seen the picture in the same time it took a person to read a sentence. This is exactly the reason why we have towering (and sometimes annoying) advertising billboards slapped on with imagery, or pictorial logotypes of large corporations such as Nike and Pepsi. It is because of the efficiency pictures have which makes them more inviting to view. Surely any sane person would take a picture over a book to digest - we only have a few minutes to spare in our busy, busy lives. The picture is able to reach a wider audience than words, and this makes is superior.

Another thing the picture has over words is the universal appeal it has. No translation is required for pictures, and this makes it powerful. Words, however, require a troublesome translation, and many translators would attest to the difficulties experienced in conveying the same exact meaning the author had in mind. Children's books always contain few to no words, and pictorial art can be understood equally by everyone worldwide, even if they fail to appreciate it. Pop art, such as Che Guevera or works by Andy Warhol, can be seen worldwide, from the streets of the USA to the alleyways of a very different country, China. Even the genius of our silent comedic heroes, Charlie Chaplin or dear old Mr. Bean as portrayed by Rowan Atkinson, use almost zero words to bring laughter to audiences all over the globe.

However, it would be folly to deny that words have the power to change. History has countless examples of this, such as Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address, Martin King Luther Jr.'s "I have a dream" or Churchill's wartime speech. In a way, what is important for both pictures and words is the content, not the method of delivery. Words and pictures are merely mediums for communication, and on this premise the effect pictures and words have on power is non-existent for the power is carried by the content. A fitting analogy (do observe how imagery and words work in tandem here) would be this: power is carried by power lines, but power lines themselves have no power to call their own.

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." - Winston Churchill

Words are also gaining ground on the incumbent, the picture. As the cliché goes, "A picture speaks a thousand words,". This is still mainly true in our modern society, but with the advent of technology this view is quickly eroding. The one unshakable power pictures had becomes threatened by photo editing tools such as Photoshop that undermine its credibility. One only needs to point to Reuters photographer Adnan Hajj whose altered photographs of Beirut burning caused quite the scandal. In our Internet-riddled age seeing will soon become "not-believing" as suspicions grow with every single such incident.

Perhaps in due time the cliché could be edited to say "A picture speaks a hundred words,", but it will still be a hundred times more powerful than a single, mere, lonely word.

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