Reading Visual Images

hello and welcome to our podcast on the idea of reading visual images and yes we do mean to read them meaning there is a certain amount of literacy that we as readers as text studiers need to have in order to truly understand what we're seeing when we are presented with something that is more visual than text so let's go ahead and see what we're talking about here first off what do we even mean by a visual text anything that has more images pictures than text there could certainly be a combination of those but when we have something that is predominantly a visual meaning we don't have to read words as our primary source of input then we're looking at a visual medium so this could be political cartoons ads advertisements films documentaries music videos those are all visual mediums and those are all visual texts as we'll call them they have their own set of literacy rules that are used to make them therefore we have to be very aware of those rules as we try to understand them because I think oftentimes we misinterpret visual images so why does this even matter why are we taking time to help explain how visual images are created and then understood can't we just intuitively figure it out aren't we just in born with this ability to look at a picture and understand it and I would say to an extent yes there are certain things that we intuitively understand about visual images but we live in such a visual world and companies are really seeking to manipulate their audience people are wanting others to buy their product vote a certain way believe a certain thing endorse a certain product or political candidate all of these things are increasingly more and more visual and so if we want to be aware of the media that's coming into us so that we can properly process it and then make our own opinions we need to understand how these things are set up so that we can then make our own decision and then go ahead and act on that decision so we've said this a lot throughout many of our podcasts in the class please remember that everyone has a story to tell some people will choose to express their theme and message for the world in a novel or a short story or a feature film or a song or a rap or whatever these visual images are one person's or a group of people's ideas about their world they are somebody's story and so this is their perspective on something their point of view even they're biased toward or against a subject and so just like any newspaper article or a short story or poem or whatever that expresses the author's theme these visual images have a theme of their own a lesson they would like to teach to the world and so in we spend a lot of time figuring out how to read a novel we need to spend at least a little bit of time now figuring out how to read a visual image so step number one we need to make a promise that we will set aside our own biases and then make a concerted honest effort to read the visual images message we can't look at that and say well I believe x and y are false therefore when I look at this and it's saying anything about X and y that it's automatically on our side or automatically against our side we have to be very clear that we have to set our own personal baggage aside and seek to dissect the visual image and get to its theme we can't project our own theme on it we have to see what the images theme is on its own kind of step two here once we've decided that we're going to set aside our own bias and see what's going on we have to observe the two main tracks of visual images one is going to be the visual track so those are things that we see colors arrangement positioning on the text the size of things the font that's used those are visual track images the next track we have to look at is what we call the text track this is when specific words are written on images now this would not be the font that they use because that would be visual track these are going to be the words themselves and so we need to really break down a visual image into both the visual and the text track figure out what each means individually and then put them both back together in order to figure out what the whole text means so if we break it down a little bit more let's look at that visual track literally it's just what do we see what event is being depicted here is this a person is this a Supreme Court decision is this the news what's going on what exactly is in this picture and then the next step and this is probably the most important part how are these images being depicted how they are depicted meaning in terms of size or accuracy or caricature or color palette these will reveal the bias of the image if we want to make somebody seem powerful we may draw them very big if we want to make somebody look silly and show that through our picture we're making fun of them we might not be real accurate with what they look like we might caricature them if we want to send a very negative message about somebody we might portray them in a color palette of black and white rather than the true color that they are in so once we've identified what we literally see we have to make this mental jump and this is where we move to what we interpret based on what we see what might the author be saying about the subject by drawing him or her this way yes I observed that they have caricatured a certain president fine what's the author trying to say by making them look silly I understand so-and-so is drawn rather large what are they trying to say about that person by drawing them extra large so some ways that images are manipulated the idea of caricature this is where we take somebody's maybe physical features and distort them to make them look a little silly so Obama's kind of known for a narrow chin big toothy grin and some ears and you know kind of stick out a little bit while somebody has caricatured him by taking those features and expanding them to make him look less accurate and perhaps starting to poke a little fun at him another example from the 2008 primary we have Hillary Clinton and Obama again and they have both been characterized again his big toothy grin pointed chin big ears and her with her pretty famous hairdo there so they're taking the real people and starting to distort them or characterize them in order to send a message about them so we look at this and have to take two steps number one we do we recognize that these people are caricatures meaning that's not what they actually look like and then step two we have to ask ourselves what is the author of this text trying to say by caricaturing these political figures another example from history this is Andrew Johnson he was president after Lincoln and you can see that he has been caricatured a bit that his head has been drawn exceptionally large so we'd have to observe that first and say yes his head is extra-large then we'd have to make that mental jump and say why why would the author of this text do that why does that matter for the author's comment on this particular president so then after we've looked at the visual tract we look at the text track steps number one literally what do we see what words are printed on this image and then we have to kind of put this together and say well what is the text tone with those words are these words an honest assessment of something is the author in support of whatever is drawn there or are they being sarcastic meaning saying the opposite of what they actually mean and if we can deduce the text tracks tone that will help us reveal the bias of the image as a whole so again the very difficult task we have is that we have to figure out the tone of the text track we have to read between the lines what is being written realistically what is mocking what is being used as sarcasm this is exceptionally hard to do because it seems like if the words are written then that's what they mean but oftentimes when we put the text track together with that visual track we can put that whole puzzle together and see that the author of the text is not being come 100% completely honest they might be manipulating a little bit so if we examine this slide just for its text track we can look at it and say okay what words are written on this image all right so it says on the on the podium it says George Wallace Bush okay interesting so once we've identified the words that are physically on this image we have to then try and figure out well what do they mean what does the author of this text mean by writing these words over this image another one we're looking at just for the text says physically what do Iraqi and American women have in common bottom-left it says may lose some rights under a new constitution and then over on the right we have a poster that says save Roe versus Wade and at the bottom says may lose rights under a new Supreme Court okay we've identified the text track and we have to kind of figure out what do they mean by this what do Iraqi and American women have in common okay something about Constitution under the bottom there all right so maybe we got to put these clues together and so one more here we have a dark choc barred image but then we move to the text track we see all kinds of things that look like they're written on a school chalkboard stay in school make us proud study hard don't ever give up okay great things written on a chalkboard but then you get an additional text track at the very bottom that says comrade Obama's radical socialist indoctrination of our school children interesting so we have two different sets of texts going on that on the chalkboard itself and then some down at the bottom there that all is text track for that image so it's kind of hard to talk about text by itself because we really need to get to this slide the idea of putting what we see visually and what we read as text track together we must put them to get for interpretation so we have to look at this ago all right so the visual track is making somebody look silly by caricature and then they're using black and white to make them look kind of scary and then there's some words written over it hmm what do all these mean is the text track reinforcing the visual image is the text track being sarcastic of the visual image and meaning the opposite those are things we have to just toy with and think through and put all together and then the big thing at the bottom like we've talked about in a lot of these deductive reasoning types of things we must have background knowledge on the topic of the image so if we go back to the one here with George Wallace Bush standing in front of thee as it says the church house door this is referencing a very famous historical event where George Wallace who was governor of Alabama stood in front of a schoolhouse door and said the famous words segregation now segregation tomorrow and segregation forever so not only is this poking fun at Bush at the visual track because he's characterized and making fun of him because of the words he's saying once you put all of these together we can see that this is referencing a very famous historical event and therefore all of the content of this visual image are pointing to one thing it is the author of this saying in his or her opinion that George Bush is wrong on this issue much like George Wallace was wrong on the issue of segregation back in the 60s but the point is we have to put what we see together with what we read plus our own background knowledge together taking out our own personal biases whether we like or dislike Bush or believe this particular statement or not put them all together and ask ourselves what is the cartoon saying not what do we want it to say but what is it saying once we figure that out then we are more than welcome to disagree with it and say I disagree I think this way of marriage is the only way or no it's not but our task right now is what the heck is the text even saying then we can agree or disagree and so one way to think about these issues and this background knowledge is always go back to that political spectrum look at liberal versus conservative look at Republican versus Democrat look at change versus tradition secular which means non-religious versus the religious men versus women rich versus poor tall versus short think about what are common stereotypes what are things that are going to be critiqued in society and try to figure out what is the visual text saying plus the text track what is it all saying together that's kind of the point of these visual images so that's about it for now in terms of how to read visual images just to summarize one we have to set aside our own biases to we then have to look at the visual track so what is drawn on the image we need to then read what is being said on this image and then we have to put it all together what do all of these things point toward is the visual image and the text all going in the same direction or is something being sarcastic moving the opposite of what we're looking at this is a very difficult skill we'll continue to practice with this but for right now if you have any questions in terms of those key steps to take go ahead and bring those in to class we'll get those shored up and then we will continue to do a ton of practice when we physically get into class as always thanks for listening and we will see you soon