DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Written by: on November 2, 2018



“A picture is worth a thousand words,” this common idiom began running through my mind as I read Sarah Pink’s, Visual Ethnography. “It refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single picture, this picture conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.”[1]


Psychology Today describes the power of visual images in this statement about our brains:

A large body of research indicates that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information. The research outcomes on visual learning makes sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.[2]

This is the basis of Pink’s assertions regarding ethnographic research. “Images are indeed part of how we experience, learn and know as well as how we communicate and represent knowledge.”[3] Her perspective on ethnography is that of a pathway of discovering and depicting society and environments. The visual and sensory methodologies allows one to become fully knowledgeable holistically rather than just as a data collector.[4]

The use of images to communicate is an ancient concept. Some of the oldest hieroglyphics were discovered on pottery vessels dating back to 3500BCE with pictorial forms of language through signs that represented words, sounds and meaning.[5] This ancient form of visual communication is now experienced through contemporary forms of photograph, video and various forms of art. Everywhere we look we are inundated with visual messages.

Pink discussed the relationship between the maker and the viewer of photographic art and its rich contours to convey “the complexities of lived experience which can throw light on broader social structures and processes.”[6] The maker must always remember we bring our whole selves into the presentation. Our world view and life experience are part of the shaping of the image. Silent observation of photographic art draws the onlooker into the context one is beholding and imagination begins reciting it’s meaning. The two become inextricably linked and a broadened perception is created as one sees through the eyes of another.

Written words with only objective data will never give human beings a complete experience as we are sensory creatures as much as cognitive. Pink has integrated her work with visual and sensory ethnographies because of this reality. People gain knowledge in a transformational manner through investigating experientially and holistically because of the “interwovenness” of our everyday lives.[7] As we observe images and hear the narrative in our minds it often elicits our other senses such as smell and sound, and often invokes emotion.

Though I am a word person and keep the dictionary and thesaurus close at all times, in reality, I know that my retention is greater and the experience so much more enhanced when my eyes are viewing images rather just reading than words. This brings to mind the Holocaust museums I have visited in Washington, D.C. and Israel. Though the info graphs posted at each display gave detailed explanation, they were not necessary. As each story played out before me every part of my being was engaged in the experience and is just as real today as I reflect upon it. I can still see the pictures of the children, the rail cars they were transported in, the mound of shoes left behind, the measuring instruments for determining the perfection of facial features, the notes written to loved ones they may never read, the emaciated faces heading toward the horrific gas chambers, the officers and soldiers standing watch stone cold. No words were needed, the story was told, the impact made. I can close my eyes and still see the images and feel the darkness, I hear the silence and smell the stench of such horror.

Pink’s work provides a strong argument for the need of the academic disciplines to add experiential methodologies to their current approaches to education. As I consider what methods I have learned from most, that which has made a truly transformational difference, I have to agree with her. Let us observe and think critically about what we are seeing. Let us ask questions of the photo, the film, the website, what is the maker helping us see that we would otherwise miss? I have noticed that whether in an art gallery or a museum, the longer I stand still and ask questions about what I am l looking at, the more I discover, the more I learn. I can experience more of the world through the eyes of another for a picture truly is worth a thousand words.





[3] Pink, 1.

[4] Sarah Pink, Doing Visual Ethnography (Los Angeles: Sage, 2013), 34.


[6] Pink, 25.

[7] Pink, 17.

About the Author


Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

12 responses to “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post, Tammy. As I was reading this book I kept asking myself how else can we involve the senses in our church services. When you think of liturgical churches they do this better than Protestant ones (but most people don’t understand the basis for what they do) but then I remembered a chat I had with a Disney employee and the use of smell. I always wondered why the restaurant’s food smelled so good as you walked up to the place and my friend told me it’s because they pump out the smell to make you more hungry and therefore you will buy the overpriced food! At first, I was mad and then I said what a great marketing strategy and only in America :). As I looked into it more I found out there is a whole category called Scent Marketing i.e.

    I want to say I saw an article once that Elevation Church uses them to create their own custom smell, but can’t find it but it does lead me to wonder how can we use scent and other senses to engage our people? As with pictures, smell also invoke power memories and creates anchors for powerful moments.

    • mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      Tammy and Mario,

      Great thoughts on including more of our senses in more of our ecclesiastical/liturgical experiences. One of my favorite ideas is from Rodger Nishioka. He is a Presbyterian Church Educator and often says that every time a church celebrates communion, they should have numerous bread making machines turned on in the worship space so everyone associates the smell of freshly baked bread with communion. Wouldnt that be a fun experiment to try at church some day?

      Additionally, I have heard from a few realtor friends of mine, that if you burn candles that smell like freshly baked bread in a home for sale during an open house, it is more likely to get offers. Who knew??

  2. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    It is so true, Mario. I actually tried this once. I had the room filled with bread makers that had started baking early enough that when the people entered the sanctuary it was filled with that wonderful aroma. I then talked about Jesus, the Bread of Life and hungering after righteousness. There was a better response than I had seen when just using words. It convinced me to get creative with messages to engage as many of the senses as possible!

  3. mm Mary Mims says:

    Tammy, I agree that the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, explains the value of visual ethnography. It is interesting that you mentioned the Holocaust Museum in DC since it is one of the few museums I have not been in. I think the reason I have not been there is for the very reason you mentioned, the responses it evokes. However, I think now it would be good to visit this museum to feel what others felt and to develop empathy for others. Only reading about an event allows us to stay detached from a situation and may cause inaction, such as not seeing the need to respond to anti-Semitism. A visual reminder of what happens when people do not take action against prejudices may be exactly what is needed today. Perhaps with more visual images, many would respond with action against the current wave of discrimination.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your very uniques perspective on how Pink’s work is relative to your learning environment. You stated, “I have noticed that whether in an art gallery or a museum, the longer I stand still and ask questions about what I am l looking at, the more I discover, the more I learn.” I love this quote, so practical, so reflective, so like the Holy Spirit. I will be ruminating on this for some time. Blessings, H

  5. Thank you Tammy for using the phrase, “A picture is worth more than a thousand pictures”, it surely brings home Pink’s advocacy for visual ethnography. As I reflect on the same, I’m in agreement but also realize that the visual images add to the tools of research and enhances the communication of the research results. My experience in communicating with pictures and videos and through the internet is that it elicits more and emotional responses than the written word. The interesting aspect is that I have also heard many people who had seen pictures, videos and our website and other social media platforms, say that paying a visit and having the real experience at our ministry revealed so much that the visual images could not convey. The truth is that visual images enhance the ability to communicate and serve as a good tool of research but they too have limitations like the written word.

  6. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Tammy, you are so right on in this post. I loved the photos you included and the way you drew upon your experiences with the Holocaust museums. I have spent much time going through museums and many of the photos and the info graphics I have read in museums have stayed with me. I appreciated your connections in this blog.

    Furthermore, I loved your thoughts on integrating the senses in church services. The conversation between you, Mario, and Jacob inspired me to think through how I might be able to do that better when I preach. I went to a Good Friday service once that was done in the Tenebrae style and it was incredibly engaging on so many levels.

    Thanks for this good work!

  7. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Such a thought-provoking post, Tammy. I loved your correlation of Pink’s focus on visual meaning by sharing your experiences in a Holocaust Museums you visited. Your description of what you saw through the pictures and what you felt was powerful. I, too, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. It was so heart-wrenching! I also experienced so much of their pain through the pictures, memorabilia and the video experiences. There’s no way to make it through that museum without Kleenex in hand! Your empathy shows through your writing, Tammy, and you have such a caring heart. Thank you for blessing us through your posts!

  8. mm Sean Dean says:

    John Wesley is famous for arguing that Christian Experience is a valuable part of the development of personal theology. He drew upon this idea that when a person has an experience with God it changes how the read the scriptures, understand tradition, and even to an extent what is rational. I think that sensory elements are part of how we learn. I love that churches have started to use multimedia as part of their services, but far to often that multimedia is filled with words rather than occupying the other senses – primarily vision. I think we, as a church, miss out if we only expect our parishioners to learn via the spoken and written word. Indeed we need to bring about other sensory learning as well.

  9. Visuals are definitely not a small thing. I could be wrong, but I read somewhere that had the photos of what was happening in those concentration camps reached the Allied powers, the support to end the war in Europe would have been greater and the war would have ended sooner.

  10. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Tammy, I had a similar experience at the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem last spring. There were times I had to stop looking at the images because the emotion was just too much. You are right, no captions were needed.

    Symbols and images have come to mean so much more to me in the context of the worship experience. I am more likely to be more engaged in my mind if more of my senses are engaged (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). I would love to explore more ways to include the senses in our gatherings.

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