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critical writing

The Dialogue of the Images

About work

The texts and the images radically differ. Both are mediations between us and the reality, as well as between ourselves. Both languages are based on an immanent plane — syntactic —, which defines the components of the language, and a transversal direction — semantic or symbolic —, which relates the language to the reality, i.e. the signifiers and the signifieds. Textual registers tend to develop mainly the syntactic plane, and ignore the symbolic relations with reality. By contrast, image registers tend to define an alternative syntactic plane, and to establish a more intimate symbolic relationship with the reality. Furthermore, the dominant thinking tends to use above all textual registers, while implicitly accompany that of images with explanations that restrict their symbolism. Given this fact, we propose a radical strategy of political resistance and subversion of the dominant thinking, consisting in operatively suspending the recourse to the textual and promoting the dialogue of the images.

dialogue, images, symbolism, signifier, signified


Editors comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

This author grapples with the differing encoding possibilities of written texts versus images and with the way in which in Western societies seem to prefer texts over images. The author makes a useful argument in favour of using images (rather than texts) for the purpose of confronting dominant thinking.

The author successfully pushes one to think about why it is that images are so much more effective than written texts at provoking resistance and rebellion. Visual communication can be so much more confronting and emotion-provoking. There is an immediacy to way visual images can grab attention and press buttons. The downside of written texts for activism is that texts rely on the audience to work at extracting the messages …and these processes of message-extraction create many possibilities for audiences to build in aberrant decodings.

As a media activist who has used both text and images this piece provoked some self-reflexivity and reflection about past successes and failures.

For anyone (including the author of this piece) interested in how images can be used to confront dominant thinking it seems appropriate to dig deeper into why the encoding possibilities of texts seem to have less provocative power than images. In a society where texts are so important, any argument in favour of images over texts must contain a substantive examination of what texts cannot do (that images can).

View other works commented by Eric Louw  ››

This essay makes an interesting argument from the well-known (to some) history of the Enlightenment shift from pictorial imagery to written text in the era of mass literacy. The author sees written textuality as fully imbricated within systems of power, and seeks a renewed use of imagery to challenge textuality’s dominance. This shift to image could open up cultural communication and thought through the indeterminacy of visual communication, the lack of strict precision in our making meaning from visuals. For the author, this represents a chance to challenge systems of power that rose to dominance during the Enlightenment and its emphasis on rational and precise thought.

There are two main critiques that this line of thinking inspires. First, as the author acknowledges, an image-based society is not inherently a free one; pre-Enlightenment European society was largely image-based in its communication of ideology and power, and was not known for its freedoms and only intermittently open to new ideas and interpretations. Second, today’s visuals often fall into patterns of representation and association that are as politically regressive as any text – see Ms. Gunther’s project on gender representations in photography in this year’s festival. With the advent of moving images, the powers of music and editing come to the fore in directing viewers’ attentions, and in recent films, the more visually-oriented genres tend to close down meanings more often than they open them up. I would be interested to see Mr. Bustamente discuss moving images, since his essay seems to exclusively present still images as sites for freer thought.

Still, this essay presents an interesting argument on the radical potential of images to challenge and perhaps reduce the worst tendencies of written communication in the present age. He makes a good point about textuality’s widespread use in limiting the meaning of visual imagery. Digital culture’s common mixing of text with visuals should lead us to more examinations of the relationships between them, and their use in affirming or challenging systems of power. The essay is a provocative contribution to this discussion. ☺

-Daniel Marcus

View other works commented by Daniel Marcus  ››

This text is a good attempt to establish a fresh dialogue between texts and images, and to introduce radical strategies that would allow the promotion of dialogue between the images. In this sense the author tries to overcome the established understanding of textual and visual communication practices, so it refers to different aspects of dialogue: methodological, political, democratic etc. In the best case he discusses the position of the image and dominant position of the text in relation to the reality. Somewhere in the text is also pointed out that the textual language tends to be closer to the pole of the rational, while a visual tends to work more on a symbolic level. Although I can only partially agree with this statement, it should be noted that the culture of postmodernism tried to overcome instrumental languages. But today is evident that postmodernist strategy of (artistic and political) subversion turned into a false triumph of image. Or, put in another way, postmodernist visual strategy was not able to liberate gaze trapped in the image (the object of perception). If is attention to suspend the recourse to the textual and use images, then it is necessary to look for the radical solution. The solution is the active (emancipated) spectator. His active view requires the constant (topographical) change of perception. This kind of active perception requires investment of spectator, or at least the glasses which permanently alter the optics of view.

View other works commented by Nikola Janović  ››

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This work has been commented by 3 editor(s):
Eric Louw Daniel Marcus Nikola Janović go to comments ›

Entry details


The Dialogue of the Images

Concept author(s)

Pedro Bustamante

Concept author year(s) of birth




Competition category

critical writing

Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

I am an architect, artist, researcher and activist.