Visual elements

I've been thinking about visual elements lately---both in photography and in writing---and a combination of the two.  I'm introducing this post with one of my thrift store pictures. I wouldn't want to own this chair, but I love the picture.  I don't know why.

My thoughts about written-visual combinations started in conversation with my good friend, @JCRosen, contemplating what it means to write a story with a strong visual impression.  My initial reaction was something akin to sensory overload:  candy shop, overwhelming special effects, smoke and lights, primary colors, flowers.  But does overwhelming sensory experience leave us with any lasting visual impression?  Better perhaps to focus on the take-away?  Ask your beta readers, "What images stay in your mind after you read this?"  Maybe start with images that connect on an emotional level, specific images just slightly off from the expected.  Experiment.

I've also been thinking about how art and words fold together.  I hosted #litchat last week and we talked briefly about book covers.  It is a fact so universally accepted that we made a cliche of it:  Don't judge a book by its cover.  It's an easy aphorism and a sentiment writers are often expected to embrace.  The content---the words---they're all that matter.  But wait.  No.  I don't think it's so simple.  In a time of ebooks, when we're looking at consistency of formatting and sameness of delivery, it's more important than ever to see the printed book as an art form. A printed book combines elements that go beyond content and we will require more quality from printed books than ever.  Now that we can get the content without the cover, we're going to expect the packaging to add something significant to our reading experience.  If the artistry of the packaging doesn't enhance and fold into the experience of the story, we won't buy the printed book.

So what do we expect of this art and photography?  Is it enough that the visual reflect the content of the story?  This week I posted a short story on my Claire Morgane site and realized that I really do expect more.  The story, "Gelatinized" is about mothers and food.  It begins with Claire attempting to dispose of a week's worth of gelatin, left there by a foster mother with her own set of issues.  It works into an evaluation of three moms who all let down their kids in some way.  When I looked for a photo to go with the story, I found a stock photo of gelatin.  It ties in with the story content.  That's good, right? Well, sort of.  Here's the thing:  I don't like looking at a picture of gelatin.  I don't care if it mirrors Claire's own revulsion.  I just couldn't stand the picture.  This morning I had to replace it.  I grabbed one of my own photos and retouched it to give it a surreal-gelatin feel.  At least that's what I tell myself I did.  I like the story so much better after replacing the picture.  Here are the two pictures:  first the gelatin and then the replacement.

Also influencing me:  I'm taking this photography course from Vivienne McMaster.  The focus is self-portraiture.  Why?  Because writing and blogging and social networking are all tied together and authors need to get more comfortable with that fact.  Most of us are not excited about seeing pictures of ourselves or hearing our recorded voices.  But you know what?  We so need to get over that.  Readers want to know we're real.  I even think they have a right to know we're real.  We're asking them to read our stories---to go inside our heads for the duration---and I'm okay with the fact that a picture contributes to that trust.

I'm less okay with turning that abstract notion into a mandate that I post pictures of myself.  No. No.  I was talking about other people!  Not me.


So I'm taking this course.  And I'm snapping lots of pictures.  And I'm even having fun.  Here are a couple photos from the first week:

So what do you think?  How are you experiencing the visual in your own creative life?


  1. Ah, lovely that you posted some of your pics from the self portraiture class.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Johanna Harness, Jane Hammons and Christine Musser, Reader Writer. Reader Writer said: Visual elements: I’ve been thinking about visual elements lately—both in photography and in writing—and a... #amwriting [...]

  3. I kind of liked the dayglo gelatin :) .@johannaharness Contemplate visual elements in & alongside writing: #amwriting

  4. @johannaharness posted this piece to FB page I've been searching for an article like this. Thx 4 tweeting it.

  5. Thanks for this Johanna. I did visual art long before I really thought about writing, so I think the visual aspect has always been there for me. But now, thanks to you, I have to actually CONSIDER that visu

  6. um, premature post-itis there - Now have to CONSIDER that visual aspect in my writing, is what I meant to say.

    My first reaction to the self portraits was to prefer the second one, because of it's strong graphic quality. But after further reflection(heh-heh) I think it's more equal but different. Both nice, both showing different elements of your self.

  7. Jane--Maybe dayglo gelatin is just a nicer thing on someone else's site. lol.

    Kerry--Can't wait to see your pictures!

    Chris--thanks so much for the facebook post. That's great!

    John--reflection. hee. I do prefer the second one. Lots of fun editing tools at

  8. Thank you! RT @happeningschris: @johannaharness posted this piece to FB page

  9. chair is as someone described the Kramer Character - "...a Loathsome brute, but I can't look away."

  10. John--yes! Exactly. I do enjoy taking pictures of things at the thrift store. I'll do a gallery of those pics sometime. So many things are like that. No way would I want to own them, but they possess a serious wow-factor.

    I didn't have my camera the day my daughter and I discovered the old doll with red eyes. Oh so creepy. Since then, I check twice for my camera before I go.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts