The medium and the message


Aged b&w shot of portable typewriter. Photo credit: Su Leslie, 2016

Broken typewriter. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”

LP Hartley, The Go-Between

For the last twenty-odd years, in the little space on forms labelled Occupation, I’ve almost unthinkingly put the word “writer” .

But the truth is, while crafting words still forms a large part of my paying (and more often, non-paying) work, I’m no longer asked to deliver a defined volume of words (measured in column inches or recorded minutes) to be set in a visual (or aural) space by someone else.

These days I’m a more content creator than copy-writer. And while the well-paid agency gigs of the 1990s are a distant (and lovely) memory, I enjoy having control over how my words look as well as how they read.

Note the “as well as.”

For when words are no longer crafted as a separate entity, but become a “text as image” adjunct, they can become devalued. I’m noticing that as communication becomes more and more visual, a lot of writing — even that created by those paid to do so — is sloppy, confused, sometimes barely literate. Perhaps audiences have become sloppy readers.


B&W close-up shot of portable typewriter keys. Photo credit: Su Leslie, 2016

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.” — P. G. Wodehouse. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

The typewriter is an apt symbol of this shift. The physical reality of the keys determined the shape of the letters, the words, the page. Emphasis came from CAPS, underlining, or   s  p  a  c  i  n  g   out the letters. There were no visual distractions;  no place to hide. If the words weren’t powerful enough to grab readers, you lost them.

I don’t miss typewriters, with their inability to forgive mistakes. Before I started putting “writer” on my forms, I was a student. Before that a secretary. In those roles, I typed and re-typed pages to produce error-free documents for my lecturers and bosses.

Or replacement documents. When the Health Inspector for whom I’d spent hours typing Notifiable Disease reports let them slip from his hand in a high wind, I was reloading the Remington with blank forms (in triplicate) even as my morning’s work fluttered wetly around the office car park.

I like working with visual media. I like learning to craft images the way I have learned to craft words; to attract attention,  shape moods and to tell stories. When I get it right, words and pictures are in harmony. Sometimes I feel I’ll never leave the rehearsal room; other times, I’m happy to busk.

This post was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.


52 thoughts on “The medium and the message

  1. Well crafted. I am a sloppy writer but I am not a sloppy reader. Would that you wrote for The Press which has me raging every day over its sloppiness. I wish I could bring myself to stop my subscription but I am addicted to a morning newspaper with my coffee. 😦


    • I definitely don’t find your writing sloppy! I know what you mean about journalists though. I stopped buying newspapers a while ago, but read “news” online. I’m not sure quite what irritates me more; the terrible writing or the lack of anything that might be called investigation. I’m so tired of the unquestioning acceptance of press releases full of unsubstantiated claims posing as “facts.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who cherishes the written word, I also bemoan the devaluation of text. I have caved to that phenomenon myself, feeling that I need to “decorate” my blog posts with images in order to keep the reader reading. Today a page of uninterrupted text seems overwhelming to the typical reader. I see you did the same here.

    But I also love images! And photographs certainly are one of my favorite art forms. But I know that when I add an image just to break up text rather than to illuminate it, I have compromised for today’s audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this Amy. I think I’m as guilty as the next person of finding a page of uninterrupted text a bit overwhelming these days, and I appreciate anything that makes a page visually more appealing. That can be as simple as breaking text up with headings and varied paragraph length, and letting white space provide relief.

      My professional background is in writing copy, usually for predominantly visual media (brochures, ads, videos). The difference for me now is that I’m not a part of a production line, and have control over the visual aspects as well as the words.

      Even before that though, I think I tried to make my academic writing visually appealing (white space was pretty much the only way of doing that).

      I guess too, that I treat my blogs slightly differently. My family history blog is really more about story-telling, while ZimmerBitch is definitely where I experiment with photography and try to marry words and pictures.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Su, your description of some aspects of the writing process and being a writer provokes. I feel as though we are kindred spirits on this journey that has us reaching out through the symbols of humanity. The visual whether words or images are ways to tell our story and others. Your experiences with the written word have helped to shape your photography and vice versus. Your last image says it all: ethereal, untouchable and touchable all at once. All in our search to discover through own self-expression our identity.


  4. Pingback: Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge: Black and White (and the Fog of Winter) | Lens and Pens by Sally

  5. You are singing right to my heart with this one Su. I have two teenagers and I cringe at how little they seem to learn in their English and writing classes. The bar is constantly being lowered. Where did our love of language go? Maybe it snuck out the back door when text messaging danced onto the stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Amberly. Thanks; I do wonder what factors are behind this. Certainly texting has replaced speaking a lot of the time, and spawned some hideously ungrammatical “writing” which seems to have spread. I think you’re right, there is does seem to be a loss of love for language, and even a loss of recognition that it exists to communicate. So much of what I read doesn’t do that; I really have no idea what it is people are trying to say! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree! Some things are a great challenge to read through… I try to speak to my children without altering my vocabulary. I think it’s helping because my oldest consistently scores very high on Language and Reading tests and my three year old carries on conversations with adults like a pro. I feel like I’m trying to stem the tide of the watering down of language with my own children. We’ll see if my efforts do any good.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m sure it helps enormously when we communicate with our children using all our vocabulary. My son is an only child who spent a lot of time around adults who read to him, talked to him a and played word games a lot. He did very well at language-based subjects in school and is one of the most articulate people I know. Keep up the great work; your kids are benefitting so much!

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  6. I am an ardent admirer of your writing style and of the advanced words you use,I didn’t know if you were a professional writer or not,but you always use apt and very exact words to express your sentiments and your viewpoints.Some of them do look coined,but they are so accurate and strong that influence or even shape the readers’ thought Lovely and with a touch of nostalgia your monochromatic images,they are in absolute accordance with your theme and your concept.

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  7. Wonderful photos Su. I learnt to type at school and absolutely hated it. I have small hands and fingers and had trouble with the keys – especially the pinkies. But I did get the first Pitman exam. After that I used to type pictures using the x’s and 0’s – that was fun. The teacher knew I hated it and had trouble so she just let me do that instead. It filled in the time and I didn’t need to wag that class

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Raewyn. I did typing at school too, and in some ways it was the most useful skill I learned, since pretty much every job I’ve ever had has involved keyboard skills. Do remember those bibs they used to make us put over the keyboard at first to stop us peeping at the keys?


  8. “When I get it right, words and pictures are in harmony.” I’ve only been here a short time but it seems you get it right a lot!

    Side note: I learned to type on an IBM Selectric, the first typewriter with changeable fonts! Man, I am old!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beautiful post. The first quote I’m going to reblog sooner or later and link back to here, if that’s okay. I have grown on typewriters, first listening to it click in the next room and then tackling it myself. However, I’ve been reluctant and have been resisting to call myself a writer. However, future is vast. Thank you for this so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Perhaps the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ was coined to explain why it is so much easier to convey a message with a snapshot than it is to craft words into coherent sentences that grab you in the same way. A picture is relatively easy; creating the same intensity and clarity with words is a thousand times harder.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Junk and Disorderly? I love that. It’s the sort of title or name I’d love to come up with myself.

    I, too, get frustrated by the sloppy writing that seems to be everywhere, the misuse or abuse of words, and the disregard for proper punctuation. I dislike finding myself using exclamation points all the time in my responses and emoticons too often, although I do enjoy a good emoticon, especially in a text. Rhetoric seems to get more and more over the top. I’ve had people comment that my photo or writing was “brilliant.” I hope so, but I rather doubt it for the most part.

    Ahh, well, I did enjoy both written word and photos here!!!!!!!!! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, Su and I heartily agree with you. I was just bemoaning to a friend recently how little regarded good writing is these days. A local company has just started a charitable foundation and I went to check it out on their website. The About Us page was written so badly my eyes were bleeding. And it made the whole venture look dodgy. While they could afford to pay a professional to present their case properly, they had not seen it as important and yet it was detracting from what they are trying to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wonderful post. I remember those days well.
    I have got a “delete’ folder on my Kindle. Put another 25 % read book there this morning. I always give them a chance and read that quarter. Only nine books there, which is not too bad, but anyway… This one was set in Ireland… where the author has never been, obviously. I can forgive that, good research is a luxury, but one doesn’t have to visit Ireland to learn the difference between ‘ya’ and ‘ye’ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Inese. You do better than me to manage a quarter. If I’m going to give up on a book, it’s usually within the first few pages. I know what you mean about research. Errors in speech patterns are such a tell-tale sign. The Americanisation of British characters speech (and the use of American terms — e.g. sidewalk for pavement) really irritates me. I used to think it was sloppy but then I wondered if it’s because the writers are trying to make it easy for American audiences by using familiar terms rather than accurate ones. Perhaps I’m finding cultural imperialism where there is none, but it is such a widespread practice that I do wonder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not being a native English speaker, I am afraid that I am also guilty of these speech errors, and have no idea that I am … As a reader, I would rather like the authors to write in their own English, because they know it well, and it won’t sound ridiculous. What does it add to a family drama based in Ireland if a whole lot of characters is trying with a little success to sound authentic just by overusing 5-6 ‘Irish’ words! A good book doesn’t need to be so specific anyway.


  14. Good to see this expression of how pressed we are in presenting photos to the point that words are lost as the viewer gazes at the “purdy pictures”. Perhaps Alice had been wise in wondering what good a book is with no pictures in it, but then again, what good is a book with no words in it?

    The typewriter does engage us to slow down and give more time and energy to what we are doing, less corner-cutting and more soul-searching. It’s nice to have new tech but going back to the old isn’t always cause for irritability and I suppose the reason that is is that we know we have a choice, but the curiousity of how to persevere in the use of it makes us determined, while many others would give-up and not bother.

    “I’m noticing that as communication becomes more and more visual, a lot of writing — even that created by those paid to do so — is sloppy, confused, sometimes barely literate. Perhaps audiences have become sloppy readers.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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