10 DIGITAL VISUAL LITERACY Crafting a Narrative The first question a student should ask is why am I using an image? There are a lot of different kinds of images out there, and understanding why you’re using an image will help you decide what serves your project best, as well as where you begin searching. Are you, for example, trying to use an image as evidence of a main point in a research paper? Or are you using an image to illustrate a slide on a presentation? Both of these uses would require different images—even if they were about the same topic. There’s an almost infinite variety of ways you could categorize images. People tend to catego- rize images by medium, or what was used to create the picture. People also categorize images by subject matter—what the image itself pictures. How- ever, these categories aren’t as helpful to the student researcher, who needs to not just view a picture but use an image in their work. Instead of catego- rizing images by how they’re created or by what their subject matter is, you should consider categorizing images by their potential use in your project. While there’s a lot of different kinds of images out there, most of them can be categorized into one of three groups: known images, illustrative images, and visualizations. These categories refer not to how the image is created, but instead what purpose it’s being used for. An illustrative image, for example, doesn’t have to be a drawing—it could be a photograph. Known images are images of specific persons, places, or things. Known images sometimes serve as a primary source in a research project other times they simply illuminate the content to the viewer. Take this image of Edgar Allan Poe (Photo 2.1), for example. If you were presenting on different kinds of engraving techniques, this might be a good known image. It could function as a primary source, visibly dem- onstrating a certain engraving technique. If you were a student writing a research paper on the public acclaim of Edgar Allan Poe, this image could also function as a known image. If the reader was unfamiliar with Poe, this could help “picture” the topic. Illustrative images are images used to illus- trate concepts. They function symbolically rather than literally. Illustrative pictures are sometimes used to clarify a vaguer concept than a person, place, or thing—perhaps a feeling or a philosophical ideal. Stock images, which are nonspecific professional photos usually made for graphic designers, often function as illustrative images. An image of an open window is an example of an illustrative image. It’s not an image of a specific place or time—it’s just an open window. However, it could be used to help the audience understand a certain concept. If a student were presenting on the importance of main- taining an open mind in education, this image would be suitable. Visualiza- tions are images of a specific set of data. Charts and graphs are common forms of visualizations. People don’t often think of visualizations as images, but they need to be created and evaluated much like other images are, even though they often contain words or numbers.
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