MA Joanna Kędra defends her doctoral dissertation in Journalism Interpretation of journalistic photographs as an instrument of visual literacy education. Opponent Professor Emeritus Terence Wright (Ulster University, United Kingdom) and custos Professor Epp Lauk (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.
Contemporary culture is increasingly visual. Images are everywhere: private and commercial photographs, news images, billboards, leaflets, diagrams, road signs, pictorial instructions, drawings. However, the everyday encounter with images is not a sufficient condition for becoming visually literate, but any kind of visual training can help to develop visual literacy skills.
Thus, in her dissertation, Joanna Kędra designed teaching guidelines that can be used for visual training in higher education. The visual training that she proposes is based on the interpretation of journalistic photographs.
Why we need visual literacy?
– My study was driven by personal observation that the more images people create and disseminate – the less they are able to see. And seeing is crucial in the times when high volumes of information are mediated to us visually, Kędra says.
The visual literacy skills of reading, understanding, and interpreting as well as thinking and learning in terms of images are essential skills for the 21st century. Yet, contemporary higher education often takes them for granted. Therefore, students are usually poorly equipped to smoothly move in a visually stimulated environment and efficiently and effortlessly communicate visually.
– The need for visual literacy education is urgent. Visual literacy is important for all students, irrespective of discipline or major, because studying images teaches the skills to think critically and creatively, Kędra underlines.
The joy of seeing
In her dissertation, Kędra proposes four different models and approaches that can be used for exercises for interpreting journalistic photographs. Models can be used both in an individual or group-work assignments and are aimed to facilitate training in visual literacy in higher education.
– In my approach to visual education, I mostly favour the joy of photography interpretation, rather than any final result of such interpretation. Thus, my models are based of viewers’ personal experience, cultural background and knowledge. They also use journalistic photographs as images of multi-level meanings, Kędra explains.
Joanna Kędra, joanna.kedra[at]jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 7753 614
Viestintäharjoittelija Katja Ketola, tiedotus[at]jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 805 3638
Joanna Kędra obtained her diploma of Master of Journalism and Social Communication in 2009, and Master of Comparative Studies of Civilizations in 2010, both from the Jagiellonian University in Poland. Kędra worked as a grant researcher in the Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä in 2010-2016.
The study was funded by the Kone Foundation, Department of Communication at the University of Jyväskylä and VITRO Doctoral Programme.
The dissertation is published in the series Jyväskylä Studies in Humanities number 297, 56 p., Jyväskylä 2016, ISSN: 1459-4323; 297 (nid.), ISBN: 978-951-39-6796-3 (PDF). It is available at the Soppi University Shop and University of Jyväskylä Web Store, tel. +358 (0)40 805 3825, myynti[at]library.jyu.fi. E-publication: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-39-6796-3
Images are produced, used and distributed on an enormous scale. However, the skills of understanding, interpreting and using images as well as thinking and learning in terms of images are taken for granted, and thus, they are not sufficiently taught and developed, especially in higher education. The need for introducing visual literacy into the curriculum was identified in late 1960s, but no concrete guidelines have followed. This study proposes to apply interpretation of journalistic photographs as an instrument of visual literacy education. The main focus is on the image interpretation process and the kinds of meanings viewers apply to a photograph in the interpretation process. In each of the four articles included in this study, a model or approach to photography interpretation is proposed. The first method is the model for press photograph story analysis, immersed in visual semiotics. This model was simplified and improved and became the model for the interpretation of journalistic photographs. Both models were created as a synthesis of some of the visual research methods, including classical theories (elements of visual semiotics, visual rhetoric, Barthes’ concept of studium and punctum), approaches having their roots in the analysis of paintings (Barrett’s principles for interpreting photographs, compositional interpretation, iconological context analysis), methods dedicated to analysis of photographs in the press (quantitative content analysis). The concept of context of journalistic photographs is also critically discussed, indicating a context of production, context of medium and page context, and arguing for the decontextualized interpretation of journalistic photographs (proposing an intertextual approach) with a context limited to the caption. In addition, the study compiles the genre typology of journalistic photographs as an instrument for visual education. The study calls for changes in a largely textual higher education curriculum towards a more visually oriented one, which can serve as a start point for future research on the assessment of visual literacy skills.