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Image Language

Last Wednesday I participated in a workshop of my office on image language and the way we use images at the Red Cross. Though three years ago I had built up the image bank we use, I hadn’t been much into the topic of images, especially not the last year.

The meeting was held in the rooms of a media agency in Berne, by a photographer and an art director, specialist of visual  design. After an introduction to image theory, image language and picture assessment, we had a look at our publications. It was very interesting to see these visual specialists “from the outside” giving a critical look and showing flaws and shortcomings. We see the pictures with your own intentions, without noticing that they might stand in the way of the perception of others. When pointed out, you understand the questions arising, but as a lay person you normally just feel that there is something not at optimum with a picture or a detail, be it in the composition or its placement in a publication.

They showed us a number of examples of how enterprises or other organisations have defined their “image language” and present themselves according to it, giving thus a visual message linked to their vision and mission – in the form of colour selection, emotional tones or image composition. They showed us extracts of photos from which everyone immediately recognised the related organisation, without seeing any brand sign.

In the afternoon, after an input about image rights and models of  licensing we did some picture research in image banks like Gettyimages, Fotolia or Corbis. It’s not easy to find pictures for visualising a given theme.

Then we tried to define some basics of the picture language we want to use. It was an interesting discussion, to describe some do’s and don’t’s without becoming too rigid in regulations. It made me think about the way I work with pictures for the Good-Will website, especially when I am preparing powerpoint presentations on different themes of the wisdom teachings.

Seeing the costs of professional image licensing gave me an idea of the great treasure I collected with the pictures given to me by friends from all over the world, which I use for illustrating the teachings. Of course, they are not done by professionals with their high-tech equipment, but nevertheless many of them have quite a high quality standard.

Shooting or seeing photos is not just a process of the eye, but of the mind, the photographer. The way he captures a scene or how he selects a detail expresses very much of the consciousness with which he is working.


Photos of an iris, by a friend. The iris is also part of the eye and a Greek goddess of the rainbow, messenger of the gods, like Hermes. In Wikipedia it says, As the sun unites Earth and Heaven, Iris links the Gods to humanity.

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