Meaning Making Machines

The National Geographic displays the work of extremely talented photographers who present visuals on nature and culture from around the world. While exploring their website, I have come to the realization that their pictures are often used to tell a story or aid to what they want the audience to feel when reading the article that the image is attached to. Using econs, or environmental icons, is a very useful technique to engage the reader.

I am a firm believer in the fact that humans are meaning making machines. Everything we see, hear, smell, and feel we try to interpret and make sense of.

As writers trying to discuss or illuminate problems within the environment, its important to remember the effectiveness of a picture on the reader and the meaning that it will portray to them.

Photograph by Alex Webb

This photograph is taken from the National Geographic article, “Last of the Amazon” by Scott Wallace. Before reading the article, I tried to pay attention to the detail of the photo, small and large, as if the photographer deliberately captured every aspect of it.

At first I notice the background. I think I see the background before the foreground because my mind is in an environmentally focused state because of the title, “Last of the Amazon”. It seems to be dead, disheveled, dirty, and unnaturally disturbed by man.

Secondly, I notice the people in the foreground. I know that the author chooses this picture deliberately, so I ask myself why he includes the people and not just the landscape in the picture. This is because, not only will the viewers sympathize with the destruction of the rain forest, but they will also empathize with the rain-forest’s inhabitants.

The detail on the people in the picture is also very important to consider. The men pictured are obviously native. Their native clothes and native paints allow the viewer to infer that they value tradition.

As I read the article, a lot of my observations are boldly confirmed.

“In the time it takes to read this article, an area of Brazil’s rain forest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed.”

This displays the images illusion to a destroyed forest. Later in the article, the author says,

“In the past three decades, hundreds of people have died in land wars; countless others endure fear and uncertainty, their lives threatened by those who profit from the theft of timber and land.”

This perfectly fits with the emotion that I received from viewing the people in the photograph.

The article then uses the rest of its time explaining statistics and facts about the destruction of the rainforest. With every aspect of the information being introduced, the reader can easily connect this info with the picture above. The people dying and fighting for the forest now have faces, and the horrific scene described now has a real landscape. With these images, the reader can more easily understand the importance of the message that is being conveyed.

Thank you to the photographers at National Geographic who help us, meaning making machines, truly understand the disasters within the environment around the world.

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