Visual Literacy



Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (do I really need to explain who he is?) once said:

“The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as of the pen.”

Well the future is here and apparently there are a lot of illiterates in the world. A lot of them seem to reside in the media profession. Recently I read a headline where supposedly, “Scientists Uncover Massive River On Mars”. Really? That would be amazing. Now I know that there has been discovered evidence of water once being on Mars but water itself, H2O, has not, much less a massive run of the stuff. Above is an image from the European Space Agency that accompanies the article. Wow, looks like a wide, blue river right on the surface of Mars or so the average person would assume. But if you take a look you can see that it is a false color topographic map and the standard practice is to delineate heights by color. Red is for the higher areas and down a gradient to blue denoting the lowest areas. The original, uncolored image looks like this:


The thing that really bother me is that the article makes it sound like there really is a river on Mars and not just a better image of the (already known) river bed. Did the reporter actually believe there was water discovered on Mars or was he/she just lazy and printed some copy without checking? News organizations seem to have fallen down on the job lately. This is only one photography related example there are many non-photo related examples (Manti T’eo ring any bells?). Now in this media saturated age it is more important than ever to take everything you read with a huge grain of salt. A little visual literacy wouldn’t hurt either. The skill to interpret, use, and create images using both conventional and 21st Century media in ways that advance critical thinking, decision making and communication is more important today for the average person than it was even just 10 years ago. The new finger painting will be photography! My 9 year old is much more visually sophisticated than I was at 20! Brave New World!


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