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visual literacy


n. ~ The ability to decipher cultural and technological systems that express meaning using graphic images, icons, or symbols.


Visual literacy is the ability to 'read' an image and connotes the ability to understand an image as more than the appearance of things. Visual literacy understands images as creative constructs that communicate a subject and exist in a context that contributes to the understanding of that subject.

(O'Toole 1998, p. 283) We hear increasingly of 'visual literacy,' the ability to 'read' pictorial images – still and moving photographs, for example – to answer the surprisingly difficult question of what they are 'about.'
(Schwartz 1995, p. 55) At the same time that the rigour of diplomatic criticism is undermined by the inherent ambiguity of the photograph, diplomatics is a useful conceptual tool by which archivists may come to achieve a greater degree of visual literacy, and by that I mean the ability to 'read' the message of the photograph, to comprehend its evidential value, and understand it as an archival document. . . . By studying the photograph, not as a more or less accurate transcription of the material world, but in terms of its relationships with the persons concurring in its formation, diplomatic principles and concepts may help to break the presumed link between the photographic image and visual 'truth' by revealing the photograph to be the mediated representation of reality; the product of a series of decisions; created by a will, for a purpose, to convey a message to an audience.