Visual Storytelling: Depicting Sensitive Material Tastefully

This article from The Verge features two examples of visual storytelling: illustration and video. The topic is highly sensitive and personal, and would not nearly be as impactful if it just relied on text to tell the story. It is a feature about a women who received a face transplant; a highly dangerous and invasive procedure.

The video is an interview with the woman telling her story in her own words. It is successful technically because it is well shot, her face fills the frame, but is not completely centered. It is important in these types of videos to change the shots so the viewers attention is sustained. The use if “b role”(extra footage shot with audio from the interview playing over it) is done well to show some context of her life, and photo montage of her before the event is used as well. It also has a poignant and hopeful ending with her explaining how she wants to use her experience “to pay forward.”

Besides telling her personal story the article also aims to highlight the science behind the face surgery procedure. The artist is one of my favorite illustrators: Katie Scott. Her straight forward and attractive illustrations are used instead of gory photographs and technical science diagrams. The information is much easier to digest than if it was written. From a visual perspective, the illustrations employ good use to line weight and value. They use pen and ink technique that pays homage to historical medical illustration. The color scheme is somewhat muted and plays on contrasting colors to draw the eye to certain parts of the drawings. All the compositions are well balanced and most employ even symmetry.

Both of these separate examples of visual story telling result in a well rounded story that contains both human elements and scientific explanatory visuals.

As a post script, here is an interesting second article I found about the use of color in infographics.

– Stephanie


3 Responses to “Visual Storytelling: Depicting Sensitive Material Tastefully”

  1. The article you chose from The Verge has many great examples of visual storytelling. Due to the sensitive (and gory) subject matter, it would be easiest to tell this story just using words. However, I agree that the video and illustrations are necessary to explain the human side of story and the process of a face transplant.

    Although I don’t know much about the technical aspects of drawing and illustration, the work by Katie Scott works well to explain the science of a face transplant to the reader. The idea of using illustration in this sense is also really interesting to me. When I think of visual storytelling and journalism together, I tend to think more of photographs and videos. I like that this story features many different types of media in a journalistic way.

    In addition, images are very powerful in this story. They show the human side of the scientific process better than words ever could. An especially powerful moment for me was the juxtaposition of photos of the woman before and after she was attacked (around 2:30 in the video). Watching one image fade into the next like that, and seeing some of the horror this woman has faced, helped me empathize with her in a way that reading an article could never match.

  2. I likewise thought that this was a very powerful way to tell this story, especially given that the material is in fact sensitive and has such a personal connection. However, I feel that in the nature of using visual means to tell the story, the empathy and emotions that the story portrays overpowers the story itself.

    Overall, I would have liked to hear a great deal more about the actual procedure, and been given more information as to what Carmen can expect from the procedure, and how it compares to similar procedures executed in the past. Certain details concerning the procedure were brushed upon, however the main focus was that of Carmen and Marinda’s personal journeys.

    This story feels more like a personal interest story, than a story that covers the actual topic of facial transplant.

    Again, I think that it was beautifully done, and is a great insight into the impact that such a unique and modern surgery can have in a person’s life, however it is just lacking in details.

    In visual storytelling, this, I believe, is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome. Taking the fact that you have such a rare opportunity to have a person tell their story to the reader directly, the detail that one would otherwise convey in text is often lost.

    Nevertheless, I think that this was a great use of visual storytelling, however with a focus that was a little off from what I would have found more pertinent.

  3. I agree that this was intended as a human interest piece rather than a scientific development piece. But it was a remarkably crafted human interest piece. The video, as others have mentioned, was especially compelling. It humanized the scientific procedure in ways that narrative can’t. Drummond explains in the accompanying article that the procedure is gray ethically. This piece provides a new voice to contribute to the debate. The arc of the storyline moves fluidly, calling upon different motivators in each new segment of the featurette. Initially, the narrative led us from a difficult subject to the face of a resilient, courageous woman. Serene natural environments provided the backdrop for the emotional textual description of the attack. Rather than asking the audience to imagine the unimaginable, the movie’s creators evoke Carmen’s perspective of acceptance. The subject’s kindness and courageousness draw us instantly to her in the interview footage. As her story continues to unfold, we see computer simulations of the surgical process, an interview with the doctor, footage of the doctors in the surgery room, and textual descriptions of her recovery process – other effective strategies for calming the intensity, pain, and potential gore of the transplant and bringing the focus back to the life and vitality of Carmen. We meet Marinda, and we are introduced to a theme of family and belonging. Marinda had a close relationship with her mother Cheryl. The frame is entirely filled by an old photograph of the two women – footprints of the emotional connection between them. The following interview footage cuts between Marinda’s and Carmen’s accounts of meeting each other, and both the content and editing suggest a newly-developed connection between these two women. When we see Carmen’s boyfriend, he speaks briefly about the attack, but his interview turns toward the future. This segment’s theme is love and renewal. Before this part, Carmen sat, static, in her kitchen for interviews. Here, Carmen is doing dishes; she’s playing the piano; she’s walking with her boyfriend. The difference in visual context speaks volumes about the growth of the subject. The feature’s construction of story elements and visual elements created a highly emotional and uplifting narrative.

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