Humans have long noted the power of visual images, as witnessed by the exquisite cave paintings, carved bone, and engraved rocks produced by our ancestors long before they created writing. In the contemporary world, the quantity of visual images is staggering and growing in conjunction with incredible advances in technology to create and disseminate images. Everywhere we turn, in our homes, on television, computers, movies, magazines, billboards, and walls, images are there, speaking to us. There is practically nowhere in the world today where one can escape the inundation of visual images. Although particular societies and cultures produce images for consumption by their own members, images can also travel rapidly across national and cultural borders.
A puzzling thing about living in a world so permeated with visual images is how little time we spend contemplating the meanings the images have for us as individuals and as members of a society. We rarely pause to ask, “What are the images trying to say?” Seldom, if ever, do we form groups to discuss the images on the magazines we casually examine while buying our groceries. Most of the visual imagery in our daily lives we treat as the flotsam and jetsam of modern life.
In a way, this book is an attempt to improve my own visual literacy. I became hyperaware of the images of immigrants after I began conducting research on the topic in the early 1980s. I began to casually collect magazine covers, cartoons, newspaper articles, and documentaries about immigration. But what caught my eye were magazine covers.