It’s All About the Visual

Earlier this week, I was reading a chapter for my Public Relations class about the most effective ways to communicate with an audience, and the author was strongly promoting the use of imagery, supporting his thesis with the statistic that “83% of learning is accomplished through sight” (Wilcox et al. 126). This led me to remember the ages-old saying “seeing is believing,” and also how images can so easily manipulate our reality. For example, as a Michigan native I am well aware of how desolate Detroit and the majority of its inhabitants are, but every time I see one of those “ruin porn” photos of abandoned buildings around the city I can’t help but think for a moment how beautiful it is- and immediately after force myself to remember that it’s actually quite depressing.


An example of Detroit’s infamous “ruin porn” (United Artists Theater, Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre Photography)

In the works that we’ve studied for class, image is frequently used as an exposé of aspects of our environment that we previously were unaware of, but to different effects. Emma Charles’ Fragments on Machines reveals the rarely-considered physical traces of the Internet, but she also juxtaposes it with images of New York City to not only encourage us to compare and contrast them, but also to force us to consider them as part of the same ecology and realize that these machines are, in many ways, the city’s infrastructure. To the contrary, Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. also reveals visually what we previously didn’t know about our food, but does so only to further disrupt what we thought we knew about it. The film’s opening sequence of the imagery used to describe agrarian America on food labels sets us up for an even greater shock (and disgust) when the film turns to images of the industrial-ness of the food industry, the poor conditions of the animals, and the brow-beaten farmers being pushed around by big corporations.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how best to make a video statement about my ecology, the Maria Hernandez Dog Run; part of the difficulty comes from that I’m not quite sure what I want to say about it. I went into the project projecting onto the site an idea about economic privilege through dog ownership. And while that isn’t not a problem, once I actually listened to the ecology and its inhabitants, I found that there are other issues at play here: issues of gentrification, of political discrimination, of space. However, while reading Kim Stringfellow’s introduction to Greetings from the Salton Sea, I was struck by one of her concluding thoughts (34-35):

“It is easier to characterize the problem as something easily comprehensible like industrial fertilizer and pesticide run-off into the sea through agricultural processes. This is not to say that agricultural pollution is not a problematic by-product of industrial agribusiness practiced throughout the Imperial Valley. The point is that our collective inability to grasp that our existing corporate, industrial, and agricultural practices, public works infrastructure, and urban planning decisions interact, interface, effect, and consequently forever alter natural resources and the environment.”

Likewise, Robert Kenner doesn’t merely discuss the practices of the food packaging industry, but rather its various influences and effects and combinations of the two: truly, the rhizomatic network of the food industry. And so I realized that I do not have to simplify my ecology and put it into one neat little box of a single social issue. To do so would be truly a misrepresentation of the ecology.

I also want to incorporate various concepts employed by the techniques of these works. For example, I need to ask the questions “Is the viewer aware of this ecology? What don’t they know about it? What do they assume that they know?” In this case, I would expect that not many people will be aware of my specific ecology, but that they do have preconceptions about dog runs (whether in general or specific to New York City), and that I need to focus on revealing why it is not just another dog run. I also need to incorporate other nodes in the network that the Maria Hernandez Dog Run is a part of: the lack of other green spaces or spaces for dogs specifically, the contrast between the gentrifying edges of the community with the heart of Bushwick, the dogs and owners in the neighborhood outside of the dog run, to properly represent the various issues I previously named. I also want to further explore the ideas of contrast, perhaps by opening my film with video of a Manhattan dog park, gradually moving in to close shots of the dogs playing to then, through continuity of motion, pull out into the Maria Hernandez Dog Run. I also would like to use the audio from my interviews over my footage to provide a framework for the viewers without imposing too much narrative.

In summary, from these works we learn that what is so powerful about the image isn’t necessarily the subject or the aesthetic properties of the image itself. Rather, what is powerful about the image is the context that we place it within, and what it tells us about what we don’t know and what we thought we knew.

– Theresa

Works Cited

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Netflix. Web.

Fragments on Machines. Dir. Emma Charles. N.p., 2013. Web.

Stringfellow, Kim. Introduction. Greetings from the Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005. Santa Fe, NM: Center for American Places, 2005. N. pag. Print.

Wilcox, Dennis L., Glen T. Cameron, and Bryan H. Reber. “Communication.” Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. 11th ed. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2012. 117-34. Print.

~ by theresaschmid on October 22, 2016.

One Response to “It’s All About the Visual”

  1. Theresa, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost and I am awarding it the Bigger Picture Award. You connect how you want to connect the disturbing imagery of Food Inc, juxtaposing it to the “ruin porn” of Detroit. This is a great connection that exemplifies how through the video you want to go beyond aesthetics and have viewers examine the bigger picture: what are the flaws? Who is the space for? How does it truly make you feel as you watch it? Great job! – Nolan

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