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When Images “Lie”: Critical Visual Literacy

More than ever before, we have at our fingertips all sorts of visual media. We've always lived in a "visual world," but the important differences today are that:

1. More people than ever before have access to the tools to create and/or manipulate images.

2. More people than ever before have access to publish and distribute created and/or manipulated images.

And these are very good things! Social media tools and web 2.0 spaces allow all sorts of people to create, to share, to publish, and more.

But these changes—and changes in the ways in which our students see, consume, and approach media—require that we help students be careful, critical analysts of the visual content they see.

What I’ve included here are some historical examples and discussion points, some contemporary examples and discussion points, and some ways to educate ourselves and to engage students in critical visual literacy.

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Comments

Cliffordhlee's picture

Thank you for putting this collection together and doing the research behind these incredible lapses of judgment (we hope) in order to get a more visually appealing product to fit their desires. I think this collection is a great "into" activity for all  students for teaching critical literacy, especially with a focus on digital media. With the ease of access and pervasiveness  of digital media among young people and the often reification of what they produce online, it is absolutely critical we teach the importance of critical media literacy as well as the sociopolitical implications of how and why these multimodal artifacts come about.

Why might they automatically place a white, heterosexual male as the protagonist in their digital story? Why might they use an image of an urban environment to convey crime and violence? What images turn up when they Google search for "undocumented immigrant"? Are all undocumented immigrants, Latino? No. But one would never know this by the images that turn up.

This work speaks to the importance of challenging what we accept as "normal" and examining how much our language practices, ideologies, behaviors, beliefs, and actions are actually governed by these "lies" that have been presented to us as facts.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl's picture

Hi Cliff,

I agree with your comments about Danielle's collection, but your examples of other ways to interrogate images make me think that you should be making a resource too. I love your examples of just searching the web, for example for a Flickr collection, with a critical eye to problematize what we find there. These are simple, easily done assignments with minimal tech needs that generate material for good discussions in class.  I could see the discussions leading to action projects to actually intervene and 'move' an online user-geneated collection to another place.

ljoyce1's picture

This may be running away a bit from 'When Images 'Lie,'" but I hope not too much (I'm still feeling my way around this forum...). I was struck by the following article (http://www.homorazzi.com/article/beyonce-plagiarism-claims-billboard-awa...)  that accuses Beyonce Knowles of idea theft for her Billboard Music Awards performance. What is striking about this, for me, is that she isn't being called a plagiarist for the music (of which she is using a sample that is over a year old), but she is being called a plagiarist for her use of interactive digital graphics in her performance. 

I'm not so much interested in the actual debate of whether Beyonce's use of the white screen was original or not (though, it might be helpful if used in the classroom). I'm interested in the vocabulary being used. What Beyonce used, original or not, was a technology: a white screen and a projector. A series of images were compiled that were then projected on the white screen for ber to interact with during her performance. I'm interested in the idea that use of this technology can be "stolen". And can Beyonce be called a plaigarist for having done so? Even under the circumstances that some of the images used in Beyonce's performance have been used in other performances by other performers, is plaigarism an applicable word to use? She might have violated a copyright, sure, but is she committing plaigarism?

This opens an interesting discussion about how digital media is changing the vocaularies of ownership and idea property. I'm just interested in hearing input from others on this issue.

If you want, however, to stick to a more literal translation of images themselves lying - it's also worth noting that the digital Beyonces projected on the screen have obviously been edited (the contours of her digital body are much less pronounced and slimmed down) - therefore even while she sings a song about female empowerment, she elected to digitally alter her physical form on the screens. An interesting paradox!

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl's picture

Regardless of whether it connects to When Images Lie or not, this is a fascinating discussion. Thanks for pointing it out. The intersections and evolving notions of plagiarism, inspiration, remix, parody, influence, etc. are fascinating territory throughout the history of the arts. It would be interesting to see what students think of this and how they tease apart the issues that are behind their judgments, whatever they might be. How do they divide up the universe of cultural products? Does "plagiarism" as a concept apply in this universe? What are they relevant markers that would suggest the question should even apply.

devossda's picture
on Mar 09 2011

Resources in this collection

When Images "Lie": Thinking Historically with Dorothea Lange
When Images "Lie": Traveling to the Pyramids with National Geographic and Thinking about Photo Illustrations with Martha Stewart
When Images "Lie": Dancing with Sarah Palin and Barack Obama
When Images "Lie": Creating Diversity at the University of Wisconsin