Reflection – Seminar on Visual Literacy in 105MC

Going from tacit to visually literate

What do we need to achieve?
– go from a tacit approach to a visually literate one

tacit -> visually literate
descriptive approach,
emotional response
theory, critique, analysis
subjective objective, unbiased

During the seminar on Key Concepts in Media and Communication we were challenged to find the link between language literacy and visual literacy, to see the all the layers of visual communication and to start to analyse and to question everything we see. In languages, since reading and writing are not essential to surviving, ie. this is not an instinct, we had to be taught. Another language we were also taught was the visual one – we didn’t just pick up how to watch television; since we’ve been doing it for all our lives, it is so deep embedded in us that we think it’s natural. But it’s not natural at all – it’s an illusion that is created in our minds using specific techniques, tools and signs.

For example, in a scene where it seems two people are having a conversation, they could have actually been filmed on different locations, in different times etc., and then the material could have been edited to create the illusion they were having a conversation. The process of signification is when, in your mind, you get the impression they were having a conversation, and this does not come naturally – we learnt how to understand visual communication, and someone else before that has invented the way the scenes are filmed and then edited.

In media production, often it is all about genre and conventions. There are standard signifiers for each genre, for example in horror films there is always a villain, darkness, blood, music, etc., which both constitute the film in the horror genre and communicate a specific message.

When looking at any media piece, we need to think about who created it, why, and what it means. Basically, theory and visual literacy help us try and understand all the layers of a media object, so we don’t just have a tacit approach to it, but start asking questions, and even try and change it.

A very important finding: Popular culture, mainstream, is not only about ‘playing it safe’, and should not be ignored; in the contrary: we need to understand it very well, to analyse and to know it, because the mainstream producers are the ones that need to appeal to wide audiences; they understand all the mechanisms in the industry and use them wisely. So, if we want to use these tools, mainstream media is a very good start.

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