Reporters tell stories through words and images, though it’s often the text that gets the most attention, response and analysis. But humans are very visual creatures. A 1967 study produced the oft-repeated statistic that 55 per cent of communication is in body language (38 per cent is tone of voice, and 7 per cent for spoken words).
More than half of the information we share and receive comes through reading the body. So outside of text, how do we build meaning through images of people? And how does that meaning relate to the context of an image’s creation?
Sports photography presents a specific challenge for creating and communicating through still images. Players might be in a state of near-constant movement. The narrative of the game, small advantages and drawbacks, can twist and tumble back and forth from one team to the other. A final score might say little about the process of play. And an image?
An effective image conveys emotion through composition, timing and the form of the subject themselves. One challenge faced by sports photographers is how to portray dynamic activity while freezing movement itself.
In any specific moment, a gesture, a posture or a facial expression can lead the viewer to build associations with emotions or processes familiar to them. A crouching or slouched figure may signal defeat or resignation, and confidence or victory might be shown through a strong stance, or through the posture of standing with arms raised.
Images are created in context, which sometimes appears in the picture, and other times supplements the visual in text form as a cutline (the caption beneath a photograph). If we see a successful goal, that doesn’t always mean that the home team won.
Through these photographs, we receive a highlight from the narrative. And the story told about a single image might be vastly different from the game, or the season as a whole, nevermind the players’ own experiences or mentalities at that moment. Controlling facial expressions and all the information they convey could be the last thing on a player’s mind as they’re engaged in the flow of play.
As readers of text and image, we don’t always have all the information, but we can’t help it — we are visual creatures, and prone to storytelling. A great photograph will inspire us, even just for a moment, to come up with a small tale around what we see. And if we’re still curious, perhaps we can learn more about how that image came to be.