Visual Cliches

a Great Depression era movie scene

Great Depression era movie scene

The hand to the head is a visual image of surprise or distress, and we’ve seen a lot of those photos from Wall Street lately.

I belong to a Visual Communication discussion group, and the question arose about how to visually portray a concept such as a stock market crash. This illustration (Bettmann/CORBIS) comes from a 1930 movie about an investor who lost all in a market crash. 

A modern-day image of economic distress

Modern image of economic distress

One strategy is to identify visual cues. Associate professor Michael O’Donnell of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota observes that, from a semiotic standpoint, a picture contains a set of symbols that the viewer must be able to understand in meaning and also be able to place in the larger realm of events. 

He remembers pictures of the 1987 crash showing stock traders looking upward at the Big Board, with a deer-in-the-headlights stare and a hand touching the face in bewilderment.

“Believe it or not, this type of photo seemed fresh at the time,” O’Donnell wrote. “I believe something is original only once, then it passes quickly into the realm of visual cliche. But, hey, what’s a photographer to do?”

Explore posts in the same categories: Communications Today, Visual Communication

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