The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words are off course silly in some sense. In a way it’s like saying a car is worth a thousand bicycles. There is no way to know if that statement is true or not, because the criteria simply isn’t narrowed down enough. Words and pictures work in completely different ways, and since they communicate differently they actually communicate different things. Words, for instance, are fuzzy constructs that is great at conveying meaning and imagery without clarity. Pictures are clearer but also naked in that they show us their shortcomings. In fact, one of the problems of images in fiction is that they are so good att reporting that they actually can cloud the truth. For one, and this is no secret, pictures are actually worse at applying variables to what is communicated.
What picture could say “You mother’s laughter” and actually mean your mother’s laughter, regardless of who you are? Well yesterday, not many. With a little bit of programming this is off course possible to do today. All we need to know is who your mother is (via facebook or Geni?) and their avatar image, apply a little bit of face recognition (picasa is earily accurate), and a little bit of image manipulation, if the mouth isn’t smiling enough and voila we have a variable picture, or you gould just writer “Your mother’s laughter” with words and the reader wouldn’t have to feel that the face smiling back is looking uncanny. Images is in some sense inferior in their communication in that they in some sense are superior in reporting.
So if two words, “your mother” can communicate an equal number of meanings as the entire reading population, how can an image be worth a thousand times that? It can’t, they’re different things. But you probably already knew this so why this outburst? Well today on my usual strawl around the web I stumbled on two pages claiming that a picture is worth a thousand words. And you know what, they’re right. If you’re talking film or photography I agree that picture probably should have some sort of priority over words, but other times you might be better off just writing “Your mother”.
Off course maybe this conflict between image and words is just due to a simple misunderstanding.
Just after posting this I read the following quote that I just have to share:
We have all heard it is said that one picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, if this statement is true, why does it have to be a saying? Because a picture is worth a thousand words only under special conditions – which commonly include a context of words in which the picture is set. (Walter J Ong: Orality and literacy: the technologizing of the word, (2004 ed, p 7)