I was thinking today about the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”. What prompted this thought was a something I saw on my walk to work one morning. I passed a vacant lot, surrounded by a high, chain link fence. The lot was edged with several tall trees and was overrun with grass and weeds. In the centre were two large oil tanks standing about ten feet apart from one another. One was, or once had been white and the other a pale blue. They were the sort of long cylinder shaped tanks used for holding diesel or propane for heating buildings. Both were covered in graffiti. Not the unique, art that my son would create, but rough, street art.
There was something about this scene that intrigued me. Was it the feeling of abandonment? There was something about the overgrown lot, the trees, the weeds and the tanks that gave me the feeling of something old and forgotten; a quiet, isolated place hidden by the trees from the busy street that ran by it. Yet there boldly painted on the sides of the tanks were the wild, modern, drawings of someone who had found this place.
I wanted to take a picture but realized the camera that I almost always carry with me was sitting on the table at home. As is always the case in these situations, I had looked at it that morning as I was dashing out the door and thought “I should bring it”. But I was in hurry and my logical mind reasoned that I wouldn’t need it that day. But of course I did, and in fact more than once. First here and then later that day when someone I was doing a story on had to change our interview time to that day instead of the next.
So there I was with this unusual, fascinating scene before me and no camera; no pictures to share and that is when I thought “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
But is it really? A picture is a picture. No matter how well it is taken, whether it’s black and white or in color, unusual, everyday, whatever the subject matter it is laid out in stark, visual imagery. No matter how perfect or creative, how beautiful or ugly it is what it is and each individual who looks at it sees more or less the same thing. It may make each person feel something different but they will see it exactly in the same light, color and content.
Had I taken a picture of the graffiti covered tanks and posted it here, everyone would se them exactly as I had. But to describe this “picture” in words, here on this page, no two people will see the same image in their minds eye. A person’s imagination is such a unique and individual thing that no two people will get the same message or paint the same picture. And like a photograph, no two people will feel the same thing.
So a picture may truly be worth a thousand words, but perhaps a few words are also worth a thousand pictures.