Interpreting the Visual

Blog title Interpreting copy - Copy

In my last post, I wrote about my love of the visual—of photographs, art, illustrations and so on and how you can relate them to your writing. This post is a further encouragement to think visually and to develop that interpretive muscle that sees the story in the image. Thinking beyond the idea in the photographer’s or artist’s mind allows you to interpret it uniquely, although the former is a valid course of action.  Think of the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer. Tracy Chevalier loved the painting and, intrigued by the mystery surrounding the life of Vermeer, teased out a story.

Take a look at the following  night shot.

 iStock_000010825659XSmall Woman runnerwoman running © ryphotographer

Fundamentally, this is a photo of a female runner. We only see the lower limbs but we can deduce several things: type of vicinity, time of day, active or sedentary lifestyle (muscle definition). It’s a straightforward image that could be used to illustrate various brands. For example: a clothing line, sports drink, muscle rub, etc. Or, it could be used as part of a promotional campaign for healthy living and safety awareness. It could also be the starting point for a basic storyline.

If we study the second  image, we note that gender is not so obvious, but we can make a guess.

iStock_000001324880XSmall 3 boys             Walking home silhouette © Gregorys (Three silhouetted people crossing the street at night caught in the headlights of a New York City taxi.)

The subtitle roots the scene in New York. Let’s move on from the basics. Are the three people together? If not, what might be the reason for the two following the one? Is the one at the front aware of them? (They may just be crossing at the same time but that wouldn’t make for great tension.) Why are they wearing that particular type of clothing? Why are they crossing nonchalantly in front of a taxi? Is it stationary, or speeding towards them? Look at the ground? Snow? Mud? Maybe the taxi will skid in a moment. What could happen then?  Why are they there at that time of night? What time of night is it? Think beyond the clichés. This photo leads to a bunch of questions that, given your imaginative answers, could create a dark or a comic story.

The next image (a trail of lights in downtown Los Angeles) could represent any city of your choosing.

iStock_000016055178XSmall City at nightTraffic through Los Angeles © rebelml

At first glance, it’s less informative than the other two images, but because of that it provides greater latitude for inventivness.

List the basics: car lights, street lights, skyscrapers and what looks like a bridge. Now, ask questions. What lies below the bridge? Train tracks? a river? a wooded path? a park? a cemetery? (A section of the famous cemetery of Montmartre, Paris, lies under a bridge.)

P.S. If you already know this area of Los Angeles, use imagination rather than reality, unless whatever is under this road makes for a great setting!

Place a character in the scene. Are they in a car? walking on the bridge? contemplating on the bridge? in a room looking down on the bridge? If we choose the latter, what do they see? A car pull up and a woman leap out? A car pull up and a person dragged in? A person on the bridge meeting someone at two a.m. and handing over a package? A person on the bridge jumping off/being pushed off/attacked/killed?

Add the unexpected. Do the police arrive minutes later and find no evidence of anything having happened? Is the person on the bridge singing/playing a cello/painting at night/dancing? Add more: The event happens every night at eight p.m. Food for thought.

In the next post, we’ll focus on avoiding the predictable. In anticipation, let’s look back at the first photo — the female runner. Add this into the mix: her occupation. It broadens the potential for an intriguing story. I’ll leave you to come up with some interesting ones. Please comment. I would love to hear your ideas.

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