Visual Language

Despite thousands of years of making visual art, we still know relatively little about how to express meaning in images. For many years, artists relied on their own intuitions and on wisdom passed down from masters to make visual art more expressive, to predict the emotional effects that some visual elements and compositions may elicit. While a great deal of mystery still remains, recent science has uncovered some elements of “the visual language”—how the human brain makes meaning from visual information.

Photography, both as a documentary medium and as an art form, can communicate concepts and moods extending far beyond merely representing objective appearances of some things, or serving as testimony to the occurrence of some events. Alfred Stieglitz was the first to explore the idea of equivalence in photography: how photographers may relay to viewers a sense of what they felt, and not just what they saw. Minor White explore the idea further, suggesting that equivalence is “the ability to use the visual world as the plastic material for the photographer’s expressive purposes.”

In this presentation, Guy will review some of what we know about the science of visual expression and the idea of equivalence in photography: the quality that makes photography more than just a mechanical means for recording appearances, and also the quality that makes photography a powerful medium for the creation of expressive art.