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  • Charlotte Smith

Valuing the Visual

This is the first in a series of blogposts from Charlotte Smith following The GAP's project, Stories from The Threshold.

Stories can be told in many different ways, yet, communicating through pictures is universal. Stories will always mean something different to everyone: everyone comes to a story with different life experience, a different culture.

We were presented with a Chinese story which Ceri had bought from a shop in Beijing. This was a story told through a design woven with gorgeous silk onto a scroll and it immediately seemed important. Our task was to try and work out this story…quite a challenge! However, the images slowly became clear to us and sparked our imaginations.

I thought, why not delve into my own imagination and talk about a single image which resonated with the group. A man ploughing through the stream, or standing still – it was hard to work out… yet what I found most interesting was this confusion. Why was there this lonely, isolated character placed on a scroll which was busy, full of people travelling, donkeys, camels, temples, boats and families. The idea of isolation is a feeling which every individual can feel, across all cultures – especially when crossing the threshold. The threshold is personal, yet one prevalent aspect of crossing this can involve feeling like the man alone in the water. Alone, surrounded in overwhelmingly busy environment.

If I was to place my-self inside this scroll, where would I fit in? What language would I need to learn? What education would I need? Where would I find friendship? Where would I live? A drastic change, how would life be for me? Perhaps this isolated man in the water was there to represent these feelings…or perhaps I’m reading too deep!

This scroll was the perfect example of how pictures can create a story, making me wonder what can a picture add to a story?

In the stories I read as a child, the pictures were essential to my enjoyment…I probably wouldn’t have read a story without them! Little Red Riding Hood is a classic story that I have read throughout my life; form the classic fairy tale, to Grimm’s tales to Angela Carters subversion. Although all different takes on the classic tale, each author uses the same symbols of the red hood, the stranger and the woods. Pictures in children’s books often use images to explore these motifs. The Tunnel by Anthony Browne is a version of Little Red Riding Hood which has an illustration of the wild forest with creatures and faces of animals in the trunks of the trees, the picture screams danger.

These clear images, become words in other stories and for someone who can read and understand the language of the book this danger is still clear. Yet when entering a new world, the images add so much to the story.

Although, pictures can add to a story, they can also create the main thread. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a story almost too complex for words, the child goes through her life in sadness yet what she cannot see is the little red leaf which is on each page of the book. Each image has the symbol of promise. The pictures add hope to a world which seems full of isolation.

So, although this man was alone in the stream – so was this little girl. Yet hope was always present for her. This hope can be accessed by anyone, breaking this language barrier and crossing your own threshold can appear daunting, but we all have our own red leaf somewhere.

As we carry on with reading in Stories from the Threshold, hopefully the red leaf will grow into a tree and the man in the water can reach the shore and we can create our own stories.

The value of pictures cannot be underestimated!

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