Visual Storytelling – Where we are now

Education across Europe and the United States has been fostering a specific agenda of verbal literacy since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

However, over the last 20 years or so, the Internet Revolution seems to have altered, at an essential level, the relationship between words and images.

The visual dialectic that contemporary scholars argue for, is one re/rooting cultural traditions back to a visually informing/ed centrality. Today’s grand narratives, both at the popular and academic level, seem to provide scholars with a strong argument around previous, but long neglected, visual dialectics. A dialectics that, it might be argued, has a much longer history than the written tradition. This notional growth of visual supremacy across today’s multimedia formats raises a number of interesting issues. These, I feel, may best exemplified by the following questions:

Is having the capability to shoot hundreds of pictures daily actually supporting and/or promoting visual literacy? In other words, is production on this scale leading to any sort of competency, understanding or skills development? How do we ensure that we do not merely adopt verbal frameworks but adapt them into sensible grammars of visual literacy?

Visual semiotics, is a research field still coming out of the doldrums. As it re-emerges it might be the best tool available to us to enhance our ability to interpret and consequently story-tell.

Storytelling is today’s buzzword. It is all-pervasive. Now, everything is told as ‘a Story.’

As a practitioner I find myself regularly questioning what this, in turn, might signify. Indeed, storytelling can arguably be appreciated as a pivot, if not the pivot, for all forms and formats of communication, from the visual to the verbal. In The Name of The Rose, semiotician Umberto Eco states that “Man is a storytelling animal by nature.”

Storytelling has consistently been the practice of producing communication as well as of telling a story and understanding it. Frequently, it is all of these things simultaneously. This may happen in ways truly undetectable to the individual, as research on ‘flashbulb memories’ has recently explored, with particular reference to 9/11 witness accounts.

It has long been argued that all communication might be best understood as a multitude of overlapping processes of storytelling incorporating both the telling and the understanding of such stories. In such a context, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality seem to be further questioning the thin red line distinguishing the idea of turning life into a narrative, from that of making things up.