‘Our inability to read images permits our mass manipulation’

Sound Off: Julia Gelezova on . . . Visual illiteracy

Today, images are distributed to an unimaginable extent and we have become increasingly reliant on them. Surely then, if we have the tools to create and distribute images, should we also not possess the skills necessary to read and decode images and, most importantly, have the tools to question them?

Everyone is exposed to a relentless visual culture but not everyone has a discerning understanding of it and how we consume it. This is especially relevant when it comes to photography, as photographs are still presumed to represent some kind of truth. This lack of understanding of what an image represents, its purpose, context, and ultimately its intended message, is defined as visual illiteracy.

Face value

Propaganda, censorship and manipulation are easy outcomes in this environment. In an era flooded with overstimulation and a lack of thinking, images that challenge more than those which are merely “beautiful” frustrate individuals and are abruptly rejected. They are consumed at face value and we don’t question what they represent or understand what is on display, as we were not given the tools in our primary education.

As an image maker, one should use images to visually construct and talk about something relevant, meaningful – something that matters, that challenges and something that sticks. As a viewer, one should remain critical and consider what is presented and represented, in a wider cultural and political context. Listen and engage in the discourse of contemporary visual culture. As Moholy-Nagy said: “It is not the person ignorant of writing, but the one ignorant of photography, who will be the illiterate of the future.”


– Julia Gelezova is the general manager of PhotoIreland Foundation

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