The Culture of the Visual


Photograph by Sergiu Miulescu

Photograph by Sergiu Miulescu

They look like two dark cigarettes standing straight up ablaze with a billowing, shadowy smoke. They protrude and dwarf the other cigarillos scattered around their base. The sticks burn and begin to let flakes of tobacco fall out of their loosely held tops. The smaller cigarettes begin to question this heinous site. They begin to cough and can no longer see the horizon through the black smolder. The tall cigarettes then begin to crumble down to the filter. Just crumble.

Those pictures from 9/11 deliver such a terrible taste in our mouths. It just sits there, putrid and unholy resisting each tube of toothpaste we use to vanquish it. The sulfur stings and the corners of our eyes get a little wet each time those images come into eyeshot. And that, at its core, is how our culture works. We are a visual über-visual culture that uses pictures like this to explain and reflect upon. Images are used to mark historic landmarks and to teach our young. They tell us what’s cool and what’s not. The photo of Marilyn Monroe holding down her flowing white cocktail dress with her feigned look of distress is already in the history books. The blue and crimson tinted image of Barack Obama with his set, decisive eyes looking into the distance and that grim, serious facial tone has already defined a new generation.

It’s in this occasion that we want to celebrate the culture of the visual. Take away daily images, advertisements, art and self-expression and we are left with a pretty bland existence. Images tell stories. No, they tell volumes of novels. They explain the good in the world. The bad. The sad. Images help us understand the world around us (and confuse us at the same time.) Images are the past, the present and definitely the future. Images guide us into movie theatres and strip clubs. They also warn us of the harms of smoking cigarettes

Especially as photography went mainstream with the birth of the point-and-shoot digital camera and not to mention camera phones, everyone, overnight was able to capture images and reproduce them with ease. The Internet, of course, has further enabled this accessibility. We are so overrun by endless images that we can’t blink without catching the glimpse of a James Bond movie, Facebook photo or magazine illustration. We do our homework with a movie playing to our left. Images leave us, in the end, as distractions. But this fact – albeit it is a fact – is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, it was the daily blood-spattered images from Vietnam that brought a closure to that war. This is why we don’t see bloody corpses coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. I will just leave it on this note from Sheridan’s photography program co-ordinator, Rafael Goldchain.

“Our society becomes more and more oriented towards images and less oriented to text,” said Goldchain, whose student’s work is what is featured on these following six pages. “Photography is central to all aspects of human communication right now. Pictures have a tremendous power that way.”

We agree. We just hope we don’t see any tall, billowing cigarettes on the horizon again.

text by ryanbolton, editor

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