Back to Writing with Pictures

My Initial Questions

Hi, Lou Ann,

I've been studying how new computerized technologies are changing the way we read and write about our world, how newspapers now have big color photos, how web texts give equal weight to alphabetic writing and to visual images, in a sense making the alphabetic writing just another visual image. A number of the theorists on language and meaning that I've been reading wonder how the turn to the visual (or the re-turn to the visual if you take into account that most of Western society was illiterate until the late 18th and early 19th centuries) is affecting how we make meaning. Some have put forth that images merely translate the meaning of words. That is, that the visual images say the same thing as words but just in a different way. But most have argued that there is something fundamentally different in how we derive meaning from a visual sign versus the written text.

Here's a sample passage: "If, as [the critic Gunther Kress, 2000] ha[s] suggested, the visual and the verbal provide fundamentally distinct possibilities for engagement with the world, then the translation from one mode to another has to be seen in the more radical sense of 'translation as transformation.' In such transformations, the figure of the translator, as a socially formed and located person with his or her own interest, has as always to be taken into account. But that apart, the 'affordances'--what any semiotic system makes possible or rules out--are the starting point for any serious attempt to understand this process of translation/transformation. Are language and image doing the same? Can they ever do the same?" (p.78)

When I read this it made me think immediately of the monuments you design and the ones you showed me, how they are becoming full of more and more images . . . As my "resident expert," so to speak, would you mind emailing me your thoughts about the changing nature of the visual in monument design? Why do people put tractors and windmills and apple pies on their monuments? Is it because now they can do it? Why don't they just write Emma Smith. A Fine Pie Baker. Why the picture of the apple pie and not the words? What does a picture on a monument do that words can't or don't?

A red granite monument with a picture of a cat Images like this one make me wonder, why the picture and not, "She liked cats"? This photo is from a monument in Massachusetts.

Yes, I imagine there are some spatial considerations--aren't there?--but still, why the pictures? When you talk with people planning their monuments, what do they express or reveal that hints to their thinking about the images they choose and the effects that they hope for these images to have on those who come to view their monument?

--Heidi (11/4/2000)