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Allgemein

Narratives of Compassion

On the complexity of Images and Statements.

Image and Text were and still mostly are seen as two different factors in communication research. In my essay “Why Images Matter” I’ve already introduced Mitchell’s understanding of images. For him images appear in a multitude of forms: In the graphic, the optical, the perceptual, the mental and the verbal image (for a more in-depth explanation of these, read my text here). With this broader understanding of the image being more than just photographs, he enables us to understand verbal images (which can also show in the form of texts) and pictures as different but still related and interconnected.

In imagery, be it visual (graphic/optical) images, verbal or mental ones, we are able to communicate, what a statement isn’t able to convey credibly.

On Instagram, text and image interlink in a very tight way. On this platform, I like to understand the picture as a sort of headline. It’s the picture that grabs your attention, as the caption underneath it is often times only partially visible. So, through the image and before any textual information is given, we get a sense of what’s to come. We get an impression, a vague feeling that frames how we perceive the following text and even if we’re intrigued to read it in the first place. To me, evoking a vague reaction and a mostly pre-conscious feeling in us, is one of the most fascinating things about images. And when used skillfully, this vagueness can send signals that a statement isn’t able to convincingly communicate. I’ve already touched on it in my last essay, but I think it’s an important point to make over and over again: In imagery, be it visual (graphic/optical) images, verbal or mental ones, we are able to communicate, what a statement isn’t able to convey credibly. Images can, in their vague, diffuse operating principle, communicate essential human signals like “I take this very seriously”, “This is very close to my heart”, “I care deeply”. These are all sentences that can obviously be said or written as a statement as well. But there is a massive difference between stating “I care” and making someone feel that you care. It’s the difference between saying you will do something and actually doing it. That I think is the heart of the difference between what I call stating information and communicating it in the form of an image. Through metaphors and stories, I can create mental images and achieve a pre-conscious impression in the person I’m trying to communicate to. While by plainly stating it, the emotional reach will be, at least, very limited.

Jacinda Ardern uses imagery in a way that’s worth looking at in this context. After the horrendous shooting in Christchurch 2019 a picture of Ardern compassionately hugging another woman went viral. Before that there were other leaders who after attacks or shootings in their country held speeches stating they were condemning these acts of violence and how their thoughts went out to the friends and families of the victims. But in this case, in Arderns case, there was a photograph which intuitively let us feel these emotions without her having to state anything.

Images, be it visual, verbal or mental ones, can let us feel compassion instead of informing us that someone is supposed to be compassionate or thinks of her / himself as compassionate.

When we feel what others are communicating, it creates a bond. A bond that’s carried by essential (perceived) character traits important for everyone, but especially important for politicians: This photograph enables impressions and therefore mental images of trustworthiness, of empathy and emotional intelligence in a subtle and trough that in a very potent way. Images, be it visual, verbal or mental ones, can let us feel compassion instead of informing us that someone is supposed to be compassionate or thinks of her / himself as compassionate. There is no statement that will credibly convey a complex feeling such as compassion. However, the statement might underline what has been triggered by the image. It might transform the feeling from the pre-conscious to the conscious by making it explicit.Evoking that initial feeling in a way that most of the time isn’t even realized as such, is something that, in my opinion, makes images one of the most important aspects of communication.


Written by Rosa Miriam Reinhardt

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  1. In all fairness and admitting that all above is correct, still AKK was the main person since she was inaugurated…

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