The relative power of image

I have little or no head for figures. To my great shame, this means that many of the news stories concerning the recession simply wash over me. It’s not that I don’t care, more that the facts and figures mentioned fail to grab my imagination or hold my attention. I know they are important, and I know that they compute into the harsh realities of people’s lives – it’s just that I can’t see it. That changed yesterday when a desperate young woman and her husband climbed out onto the window ledge of the of the office building in Athens where they worked, threatening to jump. Their jobs at the Labour Housing Organisation will be cut under Greek austerity measures and they are desperate. It was five hours before the woman in the picture was talked down off the balcony. For me this sole image captured the agony of thousands and made me see it.

There are occasions, though, when an image reduces the story rather than capturing it. Earlier on yesterday I had  walked past a news stand where a tabloid was displaying the headline Whitney’s death tub’ over a murky photo of a bath of greenish water with a silver gravy boat bobbing in it. To suggest that the complexities behind the unravelling of a life could somehow be explained by this grainy image is reductionism on a grand scale. Maybe every picture does not tell a story after all?

Word and image are forever married – for preachers, writers, journalists and all who would communicate. A lazy purveyor of words cannot rely on image to get them out of trouble. Equally a gifted purveyor of images must accept that for many they will require articulation.

The formula that “1 picture = 1000 words” is not an exact one, it would seem. Then again, as I have said – I have no head for figures!

What do you think?