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The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens Paperback – April 8, 2014
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“This sumptuously detailed and profound new book should be required reading for anyone who thinks about how to effectively communicate in our new world of screens.” ―Jonathan Demme
“[A] timely, acutely perceptive, and often impassioned book, which sets the rise of visual language in the context of the long history of communication.” ―Simon Schama
About the Author
Stephen Apkon is the Founder and Executive Director of The Jacob Burns Film Center, a non-profit film and education organization located in Pleasantville, N.Y. The JBFC presents a wide array of documentary, independent and foreign film programs in a three-theater state-of-the-art film complex, and has developed educational programs focused on 21st century literacy. Under Steve’s leadership, the JBFC opened a 27,000 square foot Media Arts Lab in 2009. Since its doors opened in 2001, JBFC education programs have reached over 100,000 children.
Steve serves on the boards of The World Cinema Foundation and Advancing Human Rights. He is President of Big 20 Productions; the director and producer of The Patron, a collaboration with Ido Haar; a producer of Enlistment Days, directed by Ido Haar; and a producer of I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful directed by Jonathan Demme.
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Apkon argues that we are on the threshold of a new era where the democratic reach of media can now stretch to a level never before possible in human history. This phenomena is enabled by the ubiquity of screens to consume video; the universal language of the image over the specificity of written communications; the power and reach of the networks of distribution through YouTube and the web; and, finally, our ownership of the means of production via smart phone cameras and inexpensive editing tools. Apkon notes:
"What we are now seeing is the gradual ascendance of the moving image as the primary mode of communication around the world: one that transcends languages, cultures, and borders. And what makes this new ear different from the dawn of television is that the means of production-once in the hands of big-time broadcasting companies with their large budgets-is now available to anyone with a camera, a computer, and the will."
Akpon details how the human brain is wired for images (the province of 85% of our grey matter) and why we trust the evidence of our eyes above all else. Images are understood in context, which can be manipulated with narrative to hook an audience emotionally. We expect nothing less from Hollywood, we should not deny ourselves this facility.
Images have energized corporate storytelling. Apkon shares examples where the old rules no longer apply: from the low-budget Dorritos Super Bowl ad to Gillette's instructional video on How to Shave Your Groin, corporate video appeals directly to our `reptilian mind', prior to logic and rationality. Lawyers and journalists are tapping into the power of the image to bolster reasoned arguments.
The days of the copy editor, speech writer, or PR professional who focuses on the language of the press release alone are numbered. We need to relax our obsessive focus on a logical, written narrative. Instead of endless meetings about the nuances of a product announcement, we should look for ways to craft images that will emotionally connect with an audience. Apkon recommends we learn from the black arts of the political advert:
"Political images are much less logical that they let on-in fact, they rely on the image makers' ability to tap into primitive emotional centers that govern adaptive urges such as fear, comfort, and love."
Corporate communications professionals need to grab their Flip cameras (or whatever is available to them), fire up Windows Movie Maker and go stick the lens in the face of customers, partners, employees, and, yes, even executives. Apkon's important book challenges us to recognize the importance of the image over the written word, to learn to become literate in this medium, and to be willing to step forward and say "Lights, Camera, Action!".
Book doesn't quite reach its influential potential, primarily because it lacks an index.