Basic Concepts In Visual Literacy


A lecture accompanied by photos from the Toledo Museum presents the connection between the challenges of the 21st century and visual literacy.


For example, it is interesting to see the connection between the thing represented-

For example - the human body,

And representing it - for instance - X-rays.


The choice of white color representing the bones and black - the color between the bones,

It is a convention between doctors and the person who built these photocopiers.

To interpret photography, one needs to understand what each color represents.


The color that represents the object is a sign within a system of signs.

This system is a product of convention.


The whole meaning of the word "representation" is that you can choose anything that represents something else.

When anyone tries to make meaning from this representation, he must have a context and understand the sign system.


For example - the color "black" will take on a different meaning in the context of an image from space.

The color is just one of the signs in the representation called X-ray.

And just one of the signs in the photo from space.

The sign system indicates the type of photo-

Photographing space versus recording human skeleton - each uses a different system of signs and context.

The three common concepts in our field are:

  • Sign system

  • Representation

  • Sign

Palmer (1978) speaks of "a representative" and "a represented."

In the example of the X-ray-

The represented is specific skeleton or bones

The representation is an X-ray image that uses suitable signs (such as lines, stains, and shades of gray) included in its sign system.

In the example of a space photograph-

The represented will be the outer space

The representation is the photograph.


In the example of outer space

There are many similarities between reality and photography - because we use a camera.

Is the camera "objective"? I mean, is that the real thing?

Does the camera also have a convention manipulation as there is in X-ray?

As for press photos, model photos on billboards, and advertisements - it is clear that there is manipulation.

Art photography also has manipulation.

We are all aware of that.

The camera is a mechanism of transferring from reality to digital format (or in photo paper - in the old technology),

It is not free from manipulation.

And recently, scientists have admitted that there is an error in estimating the proximity of star systems to us because of all sorts of computational errors.

Our eye is not free from manipulations either,

We expect to see an image, and it then may mislead our interpretation.

Interpretations are essential when you bring a picture, a movie, or a graph to class.

It is vital to have a meaningful conversation about:

What is the world that representation represents?

What is the sign system that serves as a mediator between the two worlds?

Thus, we can be sure that the content is understood.

Let us not assume that all students are familiar with the signs of the representations we have brought to class.

It all depends on the students' prior knowledge, visual perception, and ability to relate the represented to the representing.


A typical example of a learner's mistake, according to studies-

Students of different ages interpreted a graph showing the travel speed of a car.

The graph has two axes - the timeline and the distance axis. Thus, speed ​​is a function of two specific values ​​- time and distance.

Some students identified a "hill" and interpreted the graph as a hill, explaining that "the car was climbing the hill."

As an exercise-

Try to explain the students' mistakes in terms of a representative world, a represented world, a system of signs, and representation.

Good luck, 21st-century teachers.

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