When power of image surpasses power of writing: is this Modernity?

It seems that today Modernity is all about image: media, television, Internet, digital revolution… and selfie… What’s the difference between yesterday and what’s happening today?

< Today > do we attach much more attention on power of image? As a matter of fact, power of image is more rampant in our modern way of life. Indeed, there are more and more images taken by others such as video surveillance, snap in the streets, etc. At the same time, we also offer more images to others via social media and selfies are the best example of this new modern trend in imagery. We live in a world where it’s all about image and communication to self or to others.

< Yesterday > it was a time when if you need to get to know about your next vacation destination, you just bought any kind of travel book guide to find where to find the best place to stay, to eat, to party, or the most convenient transportation to visit great sizing points… That kind of book was mostly made of texts, photos and illustrations…

< Yesterday > it was also a time when if you need to know about a movie, you could read about it. A critic was the art to question, to challenge but also to reward and to compliment. Above all, a critic was the way to express a valuable opinion by using words, comparisons, references, etc…

< Today > to write about a movie is no more a necessity because it’s easier, convenient and sometimes a faster process to only make your judgment by watching the trailer. Conclusion, the dynamics of appreciation or questioning are totally different.

My whole point is not to reject or minimize the benefits of progress, certainly not. Technology and technics allow us to enter into a new era of appreciation and exploring of the world. The simple baseline is to assess how much fair it is to define Modernity as a critical moment of human history when power of image has surpassed power of writing.



<今日> 我們有加注更多的關注在圖像的力量上嗎?實際上來看,圖像的力量在我們現代生活方式上面是越趨猖獗。的確,有越來越多以圖像採取的人事物,如同視頻監控、街拍…等諸如此類。同時,我們憑藉著社交媒體跟自拍也提供了更多的圖像給其他人,這是圖像在這新世代潮流裡面的最佳範例。我們生活在一個對自己或他人的全圖像跟通信的世界。

<昨日> 那時正值你想要尋找有關於你下一次度假目的地的時候,你剛買了任何一本旅遊指南書為了尋找哪裡是最佳的住宿地方,吃飯地點,派對地點,或者到絕佳旅遊景點最方便的交通是什麼…這樣的書籍大部分是由文字、照片和插圖所構成。

<昨日> 那時候你正需要了解一部電影,你可以讀它。批判是種質疑的藝術,去


<今日> 去寫一篇關於電影的文章已經不再是必須,因為觀看預告片它會更容易、方便而且有時候更快速地讓你去做判斷。結論,兩者間欣賞或者質疑的動力截然不同。


At the origins…

During a trip that I took few years ago in Africa, I was walking around in a market in the south Republic Democratic of Congo, in a city called Lubumbashi. That market was just huge by size, and very active and hectic: a constant buzz of voices and languages. You could find almost everything from food, accessories, clothing, construction equipment, traditional crafts and so on… I was intrigued by a young man aged around 16 years old who was passing from one vendor booth to another to enquiring the vendors for some job openings. Apparently, the young man was offering his skills to get a pay. The brave kid was pro-actively engaging the vendors with confidence: “Boss, do you need a salesman? I can read! I can write! I can count and I learn fast! Try me!” Most of vendors just looked at him and replied: “Son, that’s it?! You better have more than that, everyone can read, write and count.” Then, the young man replied with a rebellious tone: “Give me a chance, I’m good at business, I can show you!”

Everybody can read, write and count…

This is not true. Unfortunately not everyone can read, write and count. This young man belongs to the number of privileged people enough who received an education. Today, nearly 17% of the world’s adult population is still not literate. The scale of illiteracy among youth is an enormous challenge. Why is that? For a very simple reason, writing is a medium of human communication. In fact, writing represents language and emotion through the inscription or recording of signs and symbols. In most languages, writing is a complement to speech or spoken language. Writing is not a language but a form of technology. The result of writing is generally called text, and the recipient of text is called a reader. Motivations for writing include publication, storytelling, correspondence and diary. Writing has been instrumental in keeping history, dissemination of knowledge through the media and the formation of legal systems. It is also an important medium of expressing oneself by way of written words, as do authors, poets and the like. No rocket science, this is only the Wikipedia insights about writing… Nevertheless it teaches us a lot about the leverage we can get from mastering and using writing skills.

At the origins, for every long living civilization, writing has been a key driver to exchange and share information. In many of civilizations, due to the importance of writing as a common legacy of a culture and history, writing has been defined as a noble exercise. Sometimes, only the elite get access to the writing because it represents somehow an access to knowledge. In order to manage this gap between the knowledgeable ones and the rest called the illiterate, a new way of sharing and exchanging information was implemented. This is what I call the “short-cut”. The “short-cut” is a way to pass a message by strategically using some signs that are more understandable by a greater number of people who cannot read and write. Alphabets, wording, vocabulary, grammar are no more needed, this approach is based on human intuition, one of the most natural one: vision. Surely vision provides a fantastic perception of the world that allows individual to discover and explore the world, but also to build-up their knowledge. From that prospect, we touch base here the first critical transformation that will ultimately lead us to the power of image: Illustration.


在幾年前我在非洲的一趟旅行期間,當時我走在剛果民主共和國(Republic Democratic of Congo)南部的一處市場,有一個城市叫做盧本巴希(Lubumbashi)。這個市場及其規模巨大,而且非常活躍和繁忙:一直不斷有聲音和語言交流的嗡嗡聲傳來。你幾乎可以找到所有東西,從食品、飾品、服飾、建築設備、傳統工藝等諸如此類…當時一個約莫16歲左右的年輕男子吸引了我的注意力,他正從一個攤販的貨攤到另一個攤販的貨攤,詢問這些廠商是否有職位空缺。顯然,這個年輕人正提供他有的技術來換取報酬。這勇敢的孩子積極地與攤商們以自信交流著:”老闆,你需要一個推銷員嗎?我懂閱讀!我懂寫字!我會算數而且我學的很快!試試看我吧!”大多數的攤商只是看著他並回答說:”孩子,就只有這點能耐嗎?!你最好有比那要更多的絕活,現在每個人都會閱讀、書寫和算數了。”




在起初,每一個長遠的文明,寫作一直是主要的驅動力來交換和分享訊息。在很多的文明當中,由於寫作作為一個文化和歷史的共同遺產之重要性,它已經被定義為一種高尚的活動。有時候,僅有菁英份子能獲得書寫的機會,因為它在某種程度上代表了獲取知識的途徑。為了管理這道在知識淵博的人和那些剩下被稱作文盲的人之間存在的差距,一種新的共享和交換訊息的形式被派上用場。這就是我所說的”捷徑”。而”捷徑”是一種傳遞訊息的方式,透過有策略地利用一些標誌,那些標誌能使更多無法讀寫的人能更容易理解。字母、文字、詞彙、語法不再必須,這種方法是基於人類的直覺,一種再自然不過地:視覺。想當然耳視覺本身提供了這個世界一個驚人的視角,允許個人去發現和探索世界,同時也集結了他們的知識能力。從那樣的願景看去,我們從這裡扎根 第一個關鍵的轉型,這最終將會帶領我們往圖像的力量發展去:圖案。

Illustration, the game changer…

“An illustration is a visualization or a depiction of a subject made by an artist, such as a drawing, sketch, painting, photograph, or other kind of image of things seen, remembered or imagined, using a graphical representation”.

Illustrations can be artistic images illustrating a text, a poem, a magazine, a stamps or a book… The purpose of an illustration is to serve as a “short-cut” to elucidate or decorate a story, poem or piece of textual information by providing a visual representation of something described in the text. Given that a certain number of people are illiterate, this is a great help as we relate to writing with our level of education and cultural background, which means that we are subject to some certain natural bias in decoding words. Illustrations can partially solve that main issue by removing certain filters because imagery is more intuitive. According to the technics or processes used, an illustrator can represent in different ways for different outcomes. For instance, illustrations can be executed in different techniques such as watercolor, gouache, ink, oil, charcoal chalk or woodcut; illustrations can be carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and or being dedicated to a limited audience. The main benefit is to empower an idea, a message by documenting power of image.

In a way, illustration has unlocked a perceptive potential to reach out an audience that could not be receptive to pure writing content only. We have then moved from a traditional engagement via writing that was accessible for some privileged people in education and knowledge, to a new universe where messages could be delivered by mixing the two disciplines writing and illustrating for a more impactful result on the receiver. The most vivid example of this transformation has been the publishing industry.

Indeed, the fact that we call the activity and the operations of writing some contents attached with illustrations “editing” has given birth to the publishing industry.  Ian Fleming and J. K. Rowling, just to name of few, belong to the publishing industry as writers and authors of books. Of course, the James Bond and Harry Potter saga in writing format a.k.a. books and the movie format have known different trajectories. How many of us prefer to watch a movie rather than reading a book? Or how many people in the industry prefer to make a movie rather than writing a book? Excuse my impudence; everyone can understand that the fascinating forces of creation in writing and filmmaking are not comparable. So in this case, let me rephrase my question: what is power of image versus power of writing?




從某種意義上來說,圖案解開了感知的潛力,伸向那些不能接受純粹寫作內容的觀眾。我們從傳統寫作的參與─對於某些夠幸運能獲得教育和知識的人─延伸到一個新紀元,透過將兩個學科寫作和圖示互相結合,在這裡訊息可以被傳遞,為接收者締造一個更具影響力的結果。這個轉變中最生動的例子一直是在出版業。的確,實際上我們稱為活動和寫作部分內容的操作,並附上插圖”編輯”孕育了整個出版業。伊恩·弗萊明(Ian Fleming)和JK羅琳(J. K. Rowling)只是眾多人中的幾個,立屬於出版業者旗下作為作家以及書的作者。當然,詹姆斯·邦德(James Bond)和哈利·波特(Harry Potter)的傳奇故事的寫作形式又名書籍和電影格式則有不同的軌跡。我們有多少人喜歡看電影勝過去讀一本書?又或者,有多少人在這個行業中更喜歡製作一部電影勝過寫一本書?請原諒我的魯莽;相信每個人都可以理解,寫作下迷人的創造力量以及電影製作是無法互相拿來做比較的。因此,在這種情況下,讓我修正一下我的問題:什麼是圖像的力量與寫作的力量?

 What is Modernity?

First of all, I believe that technological progress is a differentiator to consider. Most of us regard writing as an artistic noble art. In many different civilizations, writers have been celebrating as intellectual with the exquisite talent to translate emotions, ideas, dreams, hope, faith, but also fantasy and darkness into words. They literally report and document experiences by the art of assembling words or play with language. Literature is well known for being a cosmic universe of knowledge and passion. To some extent, technological progress has modified the standards with the rapid development of illustrations. Since 19th century, illustration is a key component of media industry. In the United States of America, image is as powerful as writing. Illustration is an artistic genre and painter like Edward Hopper started their artistic journey by producing illustration. In the 1950’s, in the Pop Art movement, illustration and image were at the center of creative attentions that created new markers for the modern consumption society. Therefore, we clearly witness that in some fields, power of image has surpassed power of writing. A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information. Journalism has dramatically evolved on the past decades thanks to the technological progress made in photography and filming. GoPro, smart phones, emails, new lenses, cloud, are the new terms in journalism that refer to streamline images producing, sending, reporting, sharing, in order to shape a reality or an intelligence based on a “short-cut” imagery.

In the end, we can almost sense that capturing an image has become the essence of journalism. In a connected global world, power of image has emerged to such high standards of reality that it makes you a great reporter if you can document, report based on image. Writing is no more as important as it was. In my opinion, analysis and debate are less relevant because in a modern world, power of image is the truth. Is this Modernity?

 Secondly, advertising industry is another arena where we can easily assess the massive changes on the perception or reception of power of image versus power of writing. Addressing advertising issues is definitely a juicy business nowadays. By taking technology as a new dynamic of this industry change, digital revolution is bringing the industry to some new heights.  For most of businesses, it is more than critical to have a digital presence, because digital is simply Modernity: our new way of life.

Some of us must be familiar with Instagram… Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger with nine staff and USD 500,000 funding, Instagram is a smart phone application for pictures sharing. You can apply some filter to modify the photographic features of your photos and then you share it with your followers – people that follow your way of life translated into pictures. The users experience of sharing photos was so great that in 2012 after a series of great development success, Mark Zuckerberg himself (Facebook founder) managed the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook for one billion US dollar. What made Zuckerberg so eager to catch Instagram were the revenues prospects for the use of that application in a global world where power of image is at the core of our way of life. But not only for individuals, this is a big concern in the corporate world too. Reputation, branding, marketing, communication, corporate social responsibility: image is the greatest capital of businesses. In a consumption society, power of image has definitely surpassed power of writing. Most of advertising used graphic design to engage people with logos, images, photos, videos, and multimedia content that no longer in writing format. With the rapid development of the social media, no need to say or to write: “I like”, there is always “short-cut” icon made for us. That’s so obvious, Modernity is digital.

 Modernity is power of image, but beyond this unstoppable trend, what is still at stake is the conceptualization of “short-cut” as collective imagery. When power of writing has lost the battle versus power of image, we remain very vulnerable to power of media because an image is simply a media.  Art teaches us something crucial: imagery needs to serve a purpose, to question your self to create our own judgment. Let’s be a critic, otherwise, being just a follower is as bad as being illiterate.

 The boss said: to the young man: “Everybody can read, write and count. You better have more than that.” I guess this is Modernity in the south Republic Democratic of Congo in a city called Lubumbashi…


 首先,我認為是以技術的進步來考慮做為區別。我們大多數人都把寫作視為一種具有藝術性質的崇高藝術。在許多不同的文明裡,作家們為了知識與翻譯情感、思想、夢想、希望、信念,甚至幻想和黑暗的精湛天賦所慶祝。他們透過組裝詞彙和把玩語言的藝術,以文字寫下和記錄經驗。文學是以身為一個知識和激情的宇宙世界為眾人所皆知。就某種程度上來說,圖文並茂的快速發展,技術的進步從此修改了它的標準。自19世紀以來,圖像一直是傳媒產業裡面重要的組成要件的一部分。在美國,圖像如同寫作一樣強大。圖像是屬於一個藝術流派,以及像是畫家愛德華·霍珀(Edward Hopper)透過插圖開始了他們的藝術旅程。在1950年代,波普藝術運動(Pop Art movement)期間,插圖和圖像坐落於創造性關注的中心點,為現代消費性社會創造新的標的物。因此,我們在某些領域能清楚地看到,圖像的力量已經超越了寫作的力量。記者本身收集、撰寫、或者散佈新聞消息或其他當前的最新資訊。新聞業在過去幾十年間急遽轉變,這要多謝攝影和製片技術的進步。極限運動使用的高清錄像器材GoPro、智慧型手機、電子郵件、新鏡頭、雲端,這些都是在新聞業裡的新術語,與精簡的圖像生成、製作、發送、報告、分享有關,他們為了要塑造一個實際存在的事物又或者一項消息將之奠基於一個”捷徑”圖像。最終,我們幾乎可以感受到,拍攝圖像已經成為新聞業的本質。在一個全球接軌的世界裡,圖像的力量已經在現實上顯示出了這樣的高標準面,如果你可以記錄、以圖像來報導,它便能夠讓你成為一個偉大的記者。寫作相較於以前它不再是這麼重要。在我看來,分析和辯論都不太相關,因為在現代世界中,圖像的力量就是真理。這就是現代性嗎?


我們之中有些人肯定熟悉Instagram…它成立於2010年由Kevin Systrom和Mike Krieger創立加上九位員工和50萬美元的資金。Instagram是一個以圖片分享為功能給智慧型手機的應用程式。你可以加上濾鏡來修改你的照片中的攝影功能,接著你分享給你的追蹤者─那些人們追蹤你詮釋成照片的生活集錦。在2012年經過一系列偉大發展的成功案例後,用戶得以體驗分享照片的經驗是如此令人咋舌,馬克·扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)本人(Facebook創始人)親手以Facebook之名砸了十億美元買下Instagram。是什麼讓扎克伯格如此渴望抓住Instagram,在一個全球化的世界,使用該應用程式得到的獲利前景,其中影像的力量就正位在我們的生活方式的正中心。但這不僅是對個人,這在企業界也是一個讓人關心的議題。信譽,品牌,營銷,溝通,企業的社會責任:形象是企業最大的資本。在一個消費性社會,圖像的力量肯定已經超過了寫作的力量。大多數的廣告使用平面設計,使人們參與標誌,圖像,照片,影片,以及那些不再以書寫形式呈現的多媒體內容。隨著社群媒體的快速發展,沒必要用說的或寫的:”我喜歡”,總是有”捷徑”的圖示為我們所創造。這是如此明顯,現代化即是數位。


 攤販老闆對年輕人說道:”每個人都會閱讀、書寫和算數。你最好有比那更多的絕活。”我猜想,這就是在剛果民主共和國(Republic Democratic of Congo)南部一個城市叫做盧本巴希(Lubumbashi)所謂的現代化吧…

 Author筆者– Sanza Bulaya

Translator譯者 – Cor. C (The Ginkgo Project)