Why Pictures Work

Background

The earliest forms of the GRN Bible picture materials appeared first in the very early 1970's. Experimentation and further research saw the development of the Good News audio-visual program, followed by the 8 part "Look, Listen and Live" presentation and finally "The Living Christ" program.

An interesting part of the 'story' is how research and feedback had a major impact on the development of the materials.

They were developed initially as basic evangelism and teaching/discipling materials for oral communicator people groups and were accompanied by audio recordings that told the Bible stories. Throughout the 70's extensive research was done with missionaries and Christian workers in African and Asia. The feedback obtained had significant influence on the final product.

Characteristics of the pictures

While there can be no universal picture set that works equally well in all cultures, the style of these pictures have been effectively used in a wide variety of contexts. The research and ongoing use have confirmed the importance of the following features in many contexts.

  1. Simple, uncluttered pictures which do not distract the watcher but rather concentrate their attention on key elements of the story. The pictures were to be educational rather than a "work of art". Some people groups have very different art forms. "Reading" pictures like these may not be a part of the culture. This does not mean that such pictures cannot be used but they have to be simple and easily explained.
  2. Realistic rather than cartoon images were generally preferred though there are a few contexts where cartoon styles are more popular.
  3. Complete or full figures, unobstructed by other elements of the picture. This helped those who were not used to 'reading' pictures and who did not realise that the 'rest' of the person was behind the foreground object. This also minimised the development of strange ideas and beliefs about strange creatures that looked like fragments of bodies, spirits or ghosts or something similar!
  4. High contrast colours and clear outlines which helped people clearly identify objects and people and made the pictures useful even under low light conditions e.g. around a camp fire or in a dimly lit hut.

    It is interesting to note that some research has indicated that people are better able to reproduce black and white line drawings from memory some time after viewing them rather than colour pictures, perhaps indicating that the colours 'distract' the viewer. However, when asked, everyone prefers the colour images!

  5. "Neutral" and varied skin tones which are clearly not white!
  6. Clothing that is widely acceptable and which largely resembles the Biblical cultural context.
  7. Colour, clothing and culture: In many cultures certain colours have significance so attempts have been made to avoid creating problems through the use of particular colours. There is ongoing 'discussion' about whether the heads of women should be covered. These of course are cultural issues and there are no universal solutions. Thankfully, in the era of digital technology it is possible to maintain different sets of pictures from which to choose for a given context.

Using the pictures

The pictures were designed to be accompanied by the recordings. However, once the story has been heard several times, it is possible that a live story teller can use the pictures to tell the stories. This has both advantages and disadvantages compared to the use of recordings. The disadvantage is the possibility of important material being omitted or erroneous material introduced! On the plus side, a live story teller is able to interact with the audience and respond to urgent issues perhaps giving extra explanation if they are able.

A great strength of the pictures and recordings is that they can be used by people with little training and little knowledge of the language of the hearers.

Being in different sizes also allows the pictures to be used in different situations. Large groups can gather around the 'flip chart' (A3), size while the booklet (A5) size can be good for sharing with two or three others. The pocket (A7) size can be used as a 'give away' or for private use.

In digital form the images can be projected and used with the recording or a live story teller and they can be turned into slide show or video formats.

Issues

  1. As mentioned, the images are not specific to any particular culture. This means that to some extent they will frequently appear as a little foreign.
  2. In an Islamic contexts it can be inappropriate to use human images especially for the prophets. However, there are reports where the pictures have been very successfully used in an Islamic context.
  3. In paper form the images add expense and complexity to distribution of materials.
  4. When the pictures are used with the audio there is a much greater focus on the content. (The pictures help hold people's attention.)
  5. Some have indicated a need for more pictures to fill out some of the stories.
  6. The pictures are great for drawing a crowd.

Acknowledgements

The writer of this article would like to acknowledge several people who have contributed significantly to the development and use of these images.

  1. The late Stuart Mill, first Director of "Gospel Recordings" in Australia who championed the process which resulted in the production of the Good News presentation.
  2. The late Graham Wade of Sydney who did the original line drawings for the Good News, LLL and TLC picture sets
  3. Helen Gemeren who painted the original water colours and later digitally recoloured the images. Helen and Ellen Bay (now Noble) also travelled the world interviewing missionaries and local workers finding out what people wanted to use and what was helpful. Helen also played a major part in shaping the scripts that accompanied the LLL and TLC programs.

Comment on this story

  • Stories from all over the world sharing how others have successfully used GRN pictures.

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