Photography shifting from documentation to communication


Nick Bilton of the New York Times makes a critical point for teachers: photography is shifting from a documentation too to a communication tool. If true, and we’re not supporting photography (and video) in our schools through supporting the use of smart phones and services such as Instagram, Twitter, SocialCam, I have to ask: are we curtailing or inhibiting communication?

I am a fan of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, an idea put forward by a Professor Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark, who suggests that we may one day soon look back on the time since the invention of the printing press as one curiously dominated by print.

We privilege print above all other media in education, though I am not at all certain why. Perhaps it is what we are familiar with and, until recently it was all we had: it was the first way we could easily transmit our thoughts over distance and time. But that advantage has ended. I can make a take a picture or Instagram (crop it, add filters and see it image-stabilized, too boot) in seconds and transmit it anywhere in the world (OK, so long as the intended recipient has a web connection and a smart phone, but I hope you get the point.)

When I was running THINK Global School I was working with students from 11 different countries. All were bright and had good working knowledge of English, but I could see that image and video would be a boon to those who had to work hard just to be understood, let alone get artsy in a 500-word essay in a second language. And I am sure there are things that can be expressed in images that can’t be said in words; ask, Why painting? Lastly, while I get the need to learn to write an essay, one of my literary forms, not everything needs to be communicated through an essay or even a paragraph or even a single word. Indeed, we ought to consider that we might be stiffling creativity and deep understanding by insisting all our students to write all the time. I once had a small group of students create an interpretive dance, with musical score, that showed a clear and subtle understanding of the scene where Macbeth and Banquo first encounter the three witches.

Words are convenient for when it comes to assessment, but only, I submit, because we don’t have a grammar of assessment for image and video that we’re comfortable with and fluent in. It’s work to assess a video, old hat to grade an essay.

I’ve been having some lively conversations on this topic with @CBCVancouver sports anchor, reporter and documentarist, Emma McLagan, @emmamclagan She has some great ideas for fixing that problem and wants to build a standard curriculum for teaching video literacy–both analysis and production. Maybe I can get her to guest post here.




  1. Reply
    blairpeterson July 5, 2013

    I’m looking forward to reading The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens
    Apkon, Stephen. I have heard good things about the ideas that Apkon shares.Thanks for the post.

    • Reply
      Braddo July 5, 2013

      I hadn’t heard of the book. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Reply

    […] Photography Shifting from a Documentation Tool to a Communication Tool: Thank you Brad […]

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