Do you get what I mean?


What’s the most important thing to communicate in a picture about Joseph before Pharaoh?

Is it that Pharaoh wore a particular headdress that marked him out in his own culture as a very important person? Or is it that he wasn’t a clown?

Translators understand the value of checking text but checking how people understand pictures is also important. Asked to explain what they saw when looking at the illustration on the left, many people assumed that the man in the odd looking headdress was some kind of clown and the man standing behind him with a big branch was about to whack him on the head with it. Consequently it was decided to opt for a picture which spoke more clearly in the local culture.

In another place and another culture the “visual grammar” of the region would have indicated that in the picture below both Jesus and the man lying down are both bad people, for one simple reason…


…the picture only shows one eye of both characters. In the local culture you always show both eyes of ‘good people’. For that reason this picture was not selected for use with that particular group.

These are just two stories that show the importance of understanding visual media and it’s role in communication. Every picture tells a story – but it doesn’t always tell the one you want.

A picture might mean what the illustrator intended, but it communicates what the viewer interprets.

This is a very short introduction to a big subject of “Avoiding Visual Miscommunication: Choosing Illustrations for Translated Scripture”

For many more stories, pictures, and insights see Michelle Petersen’s, paper at


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