Narrative Image: The How and Why of Visual Storytelling

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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.

Text of Narrative Image: The How and Why of Visual Storytelling

  • Narrative Image The how & why of visual storytelling By Daniela Molnar
  • Stories are integral to human culture.Visual stories are a powerfully directmethod of conveying information,ideas, and cultural wisdom.
  • Part 1: How do imagescommunicate? Part 2: Types of narrative images
  • Part 1: How doimages communicate?
  • Images tell stories using semiotics, asort of visual grammar.> Semiotics
  • Philosopher/scientist Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 - 1914) categorized signs as iconic symbolic indexical
  • An iconic sign looks like what it represents -- aportrait or a scientific illustration, for example.
  • 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 companys 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.
  • hearticonic symbolic indexical
  • 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.
  • Republicans released the above graphic explaining how the Democratichealthcare plan willor wontwork. The process looks horrifyinglycomplex; how will we get our insurance?!
  • This chart, which explains the same process, was released by theDemocratic party. Its soothing tones and rounded edges suggest thatthe new system will be as delightful as ice cream on a sunny day.
  • Part 2: Types ofnarrative images
  • > Flavored
  • 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
  • Piero della Francesca, The Discovery and Proving of the True Cross, c. 1455
  • Chauvet Cave
  • Maria Sibylla Merian
  • Hadley Hooper, illustration about Parkinsons disease
  • > Aggregate < Depicts relationshipsbetween things in a single image composedof multiple parts Wendy Zomlefer
  • Lilian Snellling, Aerides houlletianum
  • From Colors 13, the wordless issue. Art directed by Tibor Kalman
  • Galileos engravings of the moon in Sidereus Nuncius, 1610
  • Robert Weaver, April 1959, Esquire
  • > 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.
  • Luoshenfu, Gu Kai Zhi, 344-406 CE
  • STMATTHEWI S LAN D
  • How paneled images tell stories > Closure < > The frame as time < > Transitions < > Interdependent words & images <
  • > Closure
  • > The frame as time
  • > 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
  • scene-to-scenespans significant distancesof time or spaceaspect-to-aspecttransitions between aspectsof a place, idea, or mood
  • > Interdependent words & images
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