A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Presumably that’s the notion behind #WordlessWednesday, that internet meme conceived to bestow upon the frantic blogger a day of welcome relief in their frantic schedule, so that they may rest from the burden of conveying their thoughts through the medium of the written word, and instead bung a photo up in the belief that the beauteous image alone shall communicate everything that could possibly need to be communicated to the loyal blog follower.
As someone who loves the written word, while I might be tempted instinctively to dismiss the aphorism out of hand, I find myself considering its merits. Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words. God knows there’s enough drivel to be found on my own blog, though I do at least attempt to make each word count. And the blogosphere is populated with some beautiful photography, dreamy lifestyle shots, natural light, blurred backgrounds. Given our famously ever-decreasing attention spans, do we really need several hundred words in every blog post, when a picture could say it so much more succinctly?
But let’s be honest, here. Full disclosure. For every blog adorned with gorgeous and evocative imagery, there are twenty whose owners display a perfunctory concern with the art of photography. What of composition, exposure, or lighting? What of technical skill, and a grasp of the basics, like focussing (here I can guiltily raise a hand)? The downside to the ubiquity of the camera phone – a pocketable device capable of capturing an image, manipulating it with all the tools of a well equipped dark room, and circulating it around the globe with little more than a click and a swipe – is that by minimising the effort necessary to capture each shot, we’ve somehow managed to reduce the care we put into creating the image.
Those of us who love plants and gardens are aware how central the sense of sight is to our experience of these things – arguably at least as important as the other senses – and so, as a blogger who writes about gardens, I need to make an extra effort when recording, editing, and displaying my garden photography on the blog. If I take a look back through the years, how many of those pictures I posted really could be considered to be worth a thousand words?
But then, the balance of that equation rests as much upon the value of the words as it does the virtue of the photography. The democratisation of publishing brought into being by the arrival of blogging, while a wonderful thing, is no guarantee of quality. While we were congratulating ourselves on pushing the gatekeepers out through the airlock, what did we allow to enter in their place? We, as bloggers, have each become tyrants of our own corners of the internet, free to publish typos, grammatical errors and non-sequiturs with impunity, unfettered by the restraints of an editor. It could be argued that the weblog is the modern equivalent of the diary or journal, and as such each post appears more as a stream of consciousness, poured out directly onto the screen, where idiosyncratic spelling and disjointed prose tell us as much about the writer’s thought processes and state of mind as the words themselves. But at least we had the decency to keep those diaries and journals to ourselves. For the most part.
And it’s not about having a fancy camera, or even about being particularly adept with words. It’s more about being mindful of what you’re doing when you’re taking a picture, taking the trouble to get to know how to use the camera you’ve got, or making an effort to read back through what you’ve written, run a spell check, sacrifice a paragraph that doesn’t help the flow of ideas. I’m saying “you” as I write this. Clearly, I mean “me”.
None of which, if I’m honest, makes me feel any more well disposed towards the notion of Wordless Wednesday. While the annoying pedant in me delights in the inconsistency that every image published under that meme needs to be identified with the hashtag in order to qualify (“It’s not really wordless, then, is it? Nyeeeaah”), it’s down to my belief that a blog needs words, in the same way as does a diary or a journal. Of course you can keep a book without words and stick pictures in – that’s a scrapbook, or an album. Online, we have photo sharing apps like Flickr and Picasa, but even on Instagram the photos with the most likes are generally the ones with the most interesting, narrative captions and the most creative tags.
So, where does this leave me?
With the inescapable conclusion – bleedin’ obvious, really – that every photograph published on the blog should be well composed, edited, illustrative of the point being made, and evoke in the viewer sentiments as clearly analogous to those experienced by the photographer at the moment at which the shutter opens. And that the accompanying text should be...well, similar, really. But not too long.
Better get on with it, then.
Where do you stand on #WordlessWednesday? Do you find it useful, or a bit pointless? And how do you like your blogs, wordy, or not? Let me know in the comments below, or on twitter.