A picture is worth a thousand words

There’s the saying – a picture is worth a thousand words.

This old English saying refers to the notion that an image of a subject conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does. (According to Wikipedia.)

This concept is what picture editors – both in print and moving image – rely heavily upon. That we as audiences can infer meaning from one single image.

I’m a picture person, I believe the image is just as important as the text regardless of it being in print or spoken.

But over time I’ve become quite pedantic about what ‘that’ image should be. And quite often I buck against what people would expect it to be.

An example is the work that I do in mental health. In order to de-stigmatise mental illness we need to stop seeing a diagnosis as a tragic event in a person’s life. I repel from images of people in dark rooms, cowering in corners or in despair. For many people living with mental illness this is not the day-t0-day reality.

With 50% of the population likely to have some form of mental health issue in their lifetime this image of tragedy is not relevant. Mental health takes all forms and so should how we see it. But for the mainstream media trying to tell that story, and often in a short amount of time, happy, smiling faces of people coping with every day life won’t convey the message of how debilitating mental illness can be.

Yet by concentrating on an image that only represents some of the experience and not the whole, it distorts our view of the realities of mental ill-health.

Shifting gears, think about how we pictorially depict trauma like domestic violence. A bruised face, a woman cowering in the corner, clenched fists, men with raised hands. While this tells the story, what it does for women who have experienced violence  is trigger their trauma.

That’s why I love the strategy taken by a service I work closely with. The Women’s Safety Services of SA proactively use images of positive, smiling faces. It tells the other side of domestic violence, the one where women survive, become stronger and rebuild their lives.

While it does not give the traumatic story news editors are looking for it gives a more honest view of women. Strong, feminine and surviving.