A picture is worth a thousand words

The expression “A picture is worth a thousand words” is one of the most used expressions when it comes to photography and advertising, although its overuse has led to it becoming a cliche, losing all its original meaning.

Although strongly American through the idea that it promotes, the phrase doesn’t have a clear author being found in diverse contexts and in forms more or less similar to the original one, from Napoleon, who said that “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours” (A good sketch is better than a long speech), to Turgheniev, in whose book, “Fathers and Sons” it appears in the form of “The drawing shows me at a glance what could be said in ten pages of a book”. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the phrase appeared in the context of advertising, trying and insisting on using images in adverts for a better impact on the public. Towards the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century, the image became more and more synonymous with photography, if not always at least in most of the cases. If we look at photojournalism and the strong images it produced we can also notice the presence of the same expression.

This work analyses the state in which the expression finds itself nowadays. If we take into account that in some respects the phrase implies a simplification, a reduction, we can comment on the fact that it can encourage a lack of articulation of ideas and could lead to valueless results which would be however supported by the simple enunciation of “the photograph that’s worth a thousand words”. The critique in this case is not addressed only to the expression itself, but also to the way in which it has been exploited and distorted to the point in which now it almost verges on the absurd.

In a millennium saturated by information, renouncing the use of text in favour of the image, although it might be seductive, can only have negative effects, stimulating the idea of eliminating language out of the equation of human existence. In some cases, a photograph might be worth a thousand words, but for sure a photograph and a thousand words together are always going to mean much more than each of them taken separately.


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