Role of photos in essays

I’m wondering about the ways in which photos can complement essays beyond simply being a visual representation of words. As of now, I’ve decided to include pictures in my essay because my essay is about tattoos, a very visual art form, so I’d think it makes sense to include images about the tattoos. But what additional images, if any, can be worthwhile additions?

In my previous ENG345 we had to write a photo essay and we often discussed the lack of value of being ‘too literal.’ For instance, I wrote an essay on paranoia. A large part of it had to do with my grandmother, so one of the first pictures I attached was a picture of her. While I thought this image was pretty important, I realize now that it wasn’t necessary to the story line. The content had more to do with my grandmother’s paranoia and I suppose maybe a pictorial symbol of paranoia could have enhanced the story.

Grandma pic for reference

I specifically remember a point on the rubric being something like, “images work to add new meaning, complexity to piece.” After this photo essay, I’m wondering how images tell stories that the text cannot. Of course, the phrase “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words” comes to mind, but no one ever really talks about how pictures work next to the text.

One thought is that a role pictures may have is that of a metaphor (e.g. paranoia of my grandmother). In my current essay, a major theme is this revelation of how small humans are in comparison to the universe. Right now, the cover of the essay is a black and white night sky speckled with stars. For me, the stars were stand-ins for the trillions of lifeforms on Earth. Looking at it another way, it may be too on the nose, as it depicts the vastness and infiniteness of the sky. But then again, it’s a pretty picture, and I think I’ll keep it for its aesthetics.


What are your thoughts on adding photos to essays?


Leave a Reply