2.7 Visual literacy
Much work has been done by Fuglesang (1982), UNICEF Nepal and others (see Murray Bradley 1994) - exploring people's abilities to read and interpret pictures. In development work we take a lot for granted. We assume that people can understand the posters and leaflets we produce if we use lots of pictures instead of words. The images we use seem obvious to us. However they are often not clear to people with little exposure to seeing two dimensional visual images and who are unfamiliar with their conventions. Photos are often too cluttered. Line drawings and cartoons are full of conventions (bubbles/ arrows etc) - even perspective (which did not appear in the West until Renaissance art).
As a result of these analyses some work has been done on how to deliver development communications most effectively - how to make pictures easily recognisable or "readable" to people with little exposure to two-dimensional visual images. However, no concerted attempt has been made to develop a programme which will in the process help to make people visually literate.
The link between visual and alphabetic literacy is much more eloquently argued by Fuglesang (1982) in the following quotes:
"At the basis of all writing stands the picture".
"What medium may enable the community to evaluate its own reality in a way that will precipitate new judgments or formulations about it? What medium will trigger in the community a dialogue about its reality that will possibly lead to decisions and actions to alter that reality? In my experience the issue of literacy and social transformation must start with the picture - the imitative reproduction of reality".
"[The picture] is the link between the oral and the written lifestyle and the first step on the way to written abstraction. The picture is the bridge from a basically imitative to a digital mode of communication"... "When you live in reality sometimes you are not able to see it. The picture lifts the mind out of reality. The picture makes the event into an object. The next step is to link the first written concept, the word, to the picture. The picture is the visual environment of the word."
"People learn to read pictures just as they learn to read the pages in a book. This is not recognised because education in reading pictures is an informal process. It goes on automatically in societies where a variety of pictures are presented daily through a variety of media. In social environments with no pictorial tradition or very few pictorial representations - the situation in remote African villages - the informal process of learning to read pictures simply does not occur. It is important to understand that perspective is nothing more than a pictorial or artistic convention which appeared in European painting as late as the Renaissance."
With the REFLECT pilots we have aimed to develop a method which builds on these ideas in a practical way, bridging the gulf that has developed between visual and alphabetic literacy.
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]