Is a Good Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Being the photo enthusiast I am, I sometimes wonder which of writing and picture-taking or painting is the best way to convey a message or an idea. The question seems to be unsolvable: Some would say the picture gives you an immediate feeling to visual elements and others will appeal that the feelings conveyed by…

Being the photo enthusiast I am, I sometimes wonder which of writing and picture-taking or painting is the best way to convey a message or an idea. The question seems to be unsolvable: Some would say the picture gives you an immediate feeling to visual elements and others will appeal that the feelings conveyed by a photograph are more favorable and no picture could express the complexity of life, say for example marriage or other sentiments. The brain can remember “more than 2000 images with at least 90% accuracy”. This is scientifically proven. Yet, when you think about a rainbow, can you remember in which order the colors are displayed? A simple memorization trick can help you to remember the right order thanks to the name of the colors (ROY G BIV). Moreover, if catching the eye of a viewer is important, convincing him is yet another kettle of fish. In a world that is drowned under tons of pictures (billboards, magazines, television, internet), can not a simple text make the difference? In an attempt to answer this question, we will try and examine the pros and cons of both texts and images.

As mentioned above, the brain remembers images more easily than it reminds prose. That is because images are more striking. Images are processed more quickly by the brain, 60,000 times faster to be precise. Images anchor deeper in the mind too, and the studies in brain imagery seems to show that not only an image is remembered more accurately; it is also more “interactive”. For example, people can fold images and forms in their mind, rotate them or even add other elements to create more complex pictures. The right and left hemispheres of our brain have different functions. Scientists have shown that the left hemisphere, when it comes to language is dominant: it is responsible for the processing of text and speech as well as logic while the right hemisphere is responsible for visual recognition, body language or speech intonation. To make a long story short, emotions are processed more easily by the right hemisphere. This however does not mean that all emotions are processed through the right hemisphere and the question is much more complex that this, since we know that the frontal lobe is the center of sadness for example.

To understand why images trigger emotions more quickly, it is necessary to remember that the human race has been forced to remember visual elements since the very dawn of time, as necessary for survival, let alone evolution. Images are present since the tenderest of ages, and it is widely recognized that children learn better and faster when helped by images. This is also shown through the example of children suffering from learning disabilities who, thanks to images, tend to learn more efficiently.

Yet, as images trigger primal responses, they are by definition more superb and can easily be misleading; moreover they leave very little room for imagination. As for writing, it is a form of communication that has derived from pictograms, such as were found in Lascaux in France. Many civilizations did not have any form of writing and transmitted their culture and beliefs orally. As tribes stopped being nomads and became sedentary, they developed a cuneiform alphabet to keep track of their production. It is thanks to the development of the written word that we can track back the invention of beer to Mesopotamia, some 3,500 years BC

Writing allows to mention reactions that are more complex and deeper than images. Upon seeing the photo of a loved one, a third person will not exhibit the same sentiments as a person to whom the picture means something. On the other hand, if you describe the emotions triggered by this image, the reader will be more able to develop empathy. Proust, writing about his Petites Madeleines, soaked in tea, no doubt felt again the ephemeral joy, the delicious pleasure that he compared to love, fill him up once more. A picture of a Madeleine would not suffice to induce the same emotional response in the viewer.

When you write, you put a little bit of yourself in the words that transpire on the paper; even when it is not personal, even when you are not using your own voice. The power of writing is as extensive as the imagination of the author. If it happens that the author is also an authority the message conveyed will be all the more convincing. Writing can be a form of protest and the source of insitution just as much as any given picture.

“I'll believe it when I'll see it” is a common phrase which can be either positive or negative, but always true. The true power of imagery lies in the repetition of the pictures and what this repetition will set off. In order to capture the attention of an audience, it has clearly been established that the power of vision and imagery is much more powerful than that of words. Yet, to capture the attention is one thing, to retain it is another. In our society, overwhelmed as it is by the crushing amount of pictures that are imposed on us, or that we impose on ourselves; is not finally a text better than an image, does not it bring more precision? It seems that in the end, one can exist without the other but, if the words are right and if the image is fitting, the two elements combined can coexist in a perfect symbiosis.

Is the question answered? I think it is, if only partly. I take heart in the fact that I love both arts. I could never be parted from one or the other. There is a rule in marketing which says that one must never underestimate the value of emotions. Could a simple picture transcribe the thousand words I have been writing on the subject? Maybe.

Ps: Just in case you are wondering, it really has been one thousand words!