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Narrative Image: The How and Why of Visual Storytelling
Explores the basics of how images communicate. Looks at various types of visual narratives. Presented to the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators at the 2011 national conference in Olympia, WA on July 12, 2011.
A symbolic sign does not
look like what it represents andits meaning must be learnt. Its meaning is fundamentallyarbitrary because it is based on cultural associations. Forexample, a stop sign, a flag, a traffic light, a company’s logo,or the Statue of Liberty.
An indexical sign is a
clue that links meanings. Itsassociation with this meaning is not arbitrary but isphysically or causally connected. Smoke, for example, isan indexical sign of fire; a pointing finger is an indexicalsign of whatever it is pointing at; 90 degrees on athermometer is an indexical sign that it is hot out.
All of these types of
signs are used in combination invisual communication. This is how images tell stories.iconic, symbolic, & indexical
Walton Ford, Falling Bough, 2002Iconic:
This is an identifiable scene; the log looks like a log, the pigeons like pigeons, the sky like asky, etc. We can look into this landscape as we look at the world.Symbolic: In cultural terms, the passenger pigeons represent societal shortsightedness, bloodlust,and violence against nature. They also represent species extinction, and, more broadly,environmental destruction.Indexical: The falling log suggests imminent danger or destruction. The sunset colors suggest a timeof transition. The strong diagonal composition creates a sense of unease in the viewer.
Images have the power to
impact how cultural messages are transmitted and received. This gives them the power to alter the culture itself. In March 2010, the Obama administration appointed Edward Tufte to a paneladvising the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RAT Board), which monitors the way the $787 billion in the stimulus package is being spent.
> Flavored <A subjective, editorialized
depiction ofa thing, person or place. The story is inthe implied viewpoint.Another term for the “flavor” of animage is its connotative meaning.Many images have a denotativemeaning that differs from theirconnotative meaning. The denotativemeaning is the literal meaning of theimage, while the connotative meaningis the implied meaning, or the “flavor.”
Flavor can be thought of
a meta-narrative that is present in allimages in varying degrees. F lavored Linear Paneled Aggregate
Some of the most obvious
examples of flavored images can be found in advertising.The literal, or denotative meaning of the original ad: This guy is a pretty smoothcharacter and he smokes Camel cigarettes.The implied, connotative, flavored meaning of the original ad: Our cigarettes will makeyou rich, sexy and powerful.The literal, or denotative meaning of the Adbusters ad: Joe Camel is now Joe Chemo andhe is sitting sadly in a hospital bed alone.The implied, connotative, flavored meaning of the Adbusters ad: Cigarettes will notmake you rich, sexy or powerful, but they will kill you.
Even scientific images can be
flavored. The author of the Pernkopf Anatomy atlas, Eduard Pernkopf, was a leading Nazi who purged the University of Vienna medical faculty of Jews. It is thought that the cadavers portrayed in the Atlas’ paintings are likely victims of Nazi concentration camps. The denotative, literal meaning of this illustration: this is how the muscles of the face, throat, and shoulder look. The connotative, flavored meaning: some human life is disposable.
> Linear < Depicts the
passage of timeand/or space in a single image> Aggregate < Depicts (non-temporal)relationships between things in a singleimage composed of multiple parts> Paneled < Depicts the passage oftime and/or space in multiplesequenced images
> Linear < Depicts the
passage of time and/or space in a single imagePiero della Francesca, Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes, c. 1460
> Paneled < Depicts thepassage
of time and/orspace in multiplesequenced imagesBayeux tapestry, c. 1077.224 ft long embroidered cloth which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England as well as theevents of the invasion itself.
> Closure <Closure is the
psychological leap that is essential to make paneledimages work. Closure occurs in the gutter, in the space between panels.
> The frame as time
<The frame is a unit of time – it can be a second, a minute, an hour, or an eternity.The dimensions (and shape) of the panel are as important as the space betweenthe panels, as well as the placement of the panel on the page.
> Transitions < There are
six major types of transitions between frames, each of which has a different effect on the pacing of the story.moment-to-moment subject-to-subject aspect-to-aspectrequires very little closure shows different people or things transitions between aspects of a in a scene or idea place, idea, or moodaction-to-action scene-to-scene non-sequitursingle subject in a process spans significant distances of no logical relationship - lots of time or space closure required
> Interdependent words & images
<Most, though notall, comics rely ona combination ofwords and imagesto convey anidea. If the storyis driven mainlyby the imagery,then the words The words are telling most of the story herecan wander inmany directions.If the story isdriven mainly bythe words, thenthe images canwander, becomingmore abstract and The image is telling most of the story hereutilizing moreclosure. No words
Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr’s
Life, Discoveries, And TheCentury He Shaped By Jim Ottaviani, Illustrated by Leland Purvis,Roger Langridge, Jay Hosler, Steve Leialoha, Linda Medley, Jeff Parker