Twitter and Visual Narratives

04/09/2009

I have been trying to be part of the Twitter momentum so evident at present. My attendance at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009 at the National Library of Australia accelerated my interest in Twitter. I was fascinated by the backchannel potential of Twitter at the Forum (#iif09) but realised my own limitations in tracking conversations, listening to some remarkable presentations and blogging live. I realised too that it took a great deal of imagination and energy to be part of the Twitterverse.

I have been away from Twitter for a few days and a recent car journey gave me the opportunity to listen to a talk by Shaun Tan on The Book Show on Radio National. Shaun’s talk was on Visual Narratives and was the 2009 Colin Simpson Lecture for the Australian Society of Authors in Sydney. The talk is available as a podcast and as a pdf document.

Just as I am intrigued by the 140 characters available to me in Twitter, I am fascinated by Shaun’s discussion of visual narratives. In his talk he observed that:

Like writers, illustrators are not really attracted to their chosen language for its descriptive clarity or objectivity, but more for its slipperiness, mystery, ambiguity and accidental poetry. The best illustrated stories make the most of this, often prompting us to think about familiar concepts in an unexpected way, offering up a new and interesting perspective.

Shaun’s subsequent suggestion that “I realise that I share with many other illustrators a fundamental interest in ideas of silence and voicelessness” brought into sharp focus for me why I have been intuitively attracted to Twitter (and perhaps why I have failed so miserably at Plurk).

Shaun developed his theme with a discussion of the Lost Thing.

The Lost Thing, for instance, is an awkward, mute creature without any particular purpose or ability, and for this reason it remains largely ignored by a world that lacks the imagination needed to deal with it. Even the narrator of the story, a boy who is concerned enough to befriend this hapless creature, talks about it in an evasive way, without any description, and much less insight. Every illustrated scene frames a question for the reader: how might we deal with things that are outside of language, or lack any clear meaning?

lost-thing

He discusses the potential of photo albums as perfect examples:

of how illustrated narrative works most effectively, their power is not so much in documenting particulars, but triggering memory and imagination, urging us to fill the empty space around frozen snapshots, to build on fragments and constantly revisit our own storyline, a kind of visual literacy we all understand intuitively.

Shaun concludes with the observation that “our everyday … is a place of things one-half observed and one-half imagined, simultaneously familiar and mysterious”.

I believe the appeal of Twitter is this relationship between observation and imagination. Collectively and personally we have the possibility of engaging with the familiar and mysterious.

Two recent tweets caught my eye in this regard:

Biz Stone:

just helped a blind lady navigate from the subway to her destination — she knew where she was going but I’m still a little lost

Chris Messina

Homeless man walking down 6th, casting with a fly rod. Apparently someone taught him to fish. Now he just needs a body of water.