Seeing both sides of the coin: how far do we really look at things before we jump to conclusions?

(Penguins heading for the Ocean – photo by Sebastião Salgado in his Genesis exhibition.)

A couple of years ago at the Sebastian Salgado exhibition this image caught my eye. Well, you can’t help but giggle at this photo and immediately imagine a number of reasons why that penguin decided to turn back.

  • S/He doesn’t want to be second.
  • S/He has just remembered s/he hates the cold water.
  • S/He has lost her/his nerve.
  • Can’t be bothered anymore.
  • S/He has seen the seals in the water and refuses to be cannon fodder.
  • Etc.

We can only guess and speculate.

The photo is a snapshot of a moment. We aren’t privy to what happened before. How did it all start? What provoked this change of direction?

We are also ignorant of what is about the happen. The photographer saw it all. But he solely chose to show us an image. And why was this?

Because this image provides a more striking possible narrative?

Because we are forced to speculate wildly as we see this image? We have been provoked from a place of passivity into critical thought?

So, we as onlookers have no additional information other than what we see.

This is the power of the image.

This is why images can be used to manipulate us and why we so willingly accept this manipulation. We are drawn in by a possible narrative. These narratives are based on our own individual and singular experience and history. There may be a similarity in the narrative we build if we come from similar realities. Otherwise, there is really no guarantee we will interpret things in the same manner.

So, this blog post is a first in a series of posts which will explore our reading and interpretation of images. It will explore how we as educators see things and how we can work with students to critically read images. Some of the posts will instigate teachers to react. Some will be dialogic in nature and will allow us to play with images ourselves. There is no specific direction or plan. This is much more of an exercise in instigation and critical thought and let’s see what we build collectively as a result of this.