Media Monday: Words Worth a Picture

Everyone says that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it should be the goal of a writer to write the words that don’t need a picture. Every writer wants to craft the language that evokes such clear images in their readers’ minds, that the painting of their imagination is as vivid as any physical image could be. Still, there is a lot writers can learn from photography.

If you look at some of the greatest photographs of all time, the images that truly speak beyond the confines of their frames are the ones that communicate great emotion. Take the chilling images of Auschwitz gas chambers, for instance. Deep scratches claw against the walls where desperate victims panicked for the escape they never found. The simplicity of the image is profound and power of the photograph comes more from what is not said, than what is. Another fantastic example of stellar photography is the image of a man protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Viewers can clearly see the defiance and sense of triumph on his face as he reaches to the sky, even in the midst of the chaos behind him.

The challenge of the writer is to create images that are just as powerful in their reader’s heads with the words they craft. The lesson we can take from photography is simple: sometimes the less you write, the more you say. As Richard Price said, “You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying in the road.” The bigger the issue, the smaller you write, and the more powerful the product.

The emotional reactions to events that photographers seek to capture are what help people connect with their images, and a writer should learn to do the same thing. Make the reader look at what you want them to. Capture their attention and don’t let go. Bring their focus onto one thing, one tiny but simultaneously huge thing that will narrow the implications of the large. Like a camera seeks out one subject, so too should the writer learn to push his efforts towards one image. This way, instead of throwing readers into the unquestionably vast soup of information about any important writing topic, readers will connect to one snapshot.

There are many incredible images that capture this idea of unspoken power. Here are 30 photos and here are another 60.

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