the best of qualities is dispassion

Response to Chapter 4: “Visual networks: Learning and Photosharing”

  I was immediately struck by how openminded Guy Merchant was concerning graffiti in his neighborhood. I, like many, have often viewed graffiti as a form of art, and yet art that is defacing the property of others. Although I strive to be openminded I am quite sure that I would not have approached neighborhood graffiti as Merchant (2010) describes:

As a professional educator with an interest in literacy practices—and particularly in the ways in which some of these practices are formalized and held in high esteem while others are marginalized, or even, as in the case of most graffiti, simply made illegal—I’d been photographing the tags, slogans and wall-art in my neighborhood for a year or so. I used these images in my work, as examples of forms and mark-making processes that normally are overlooked as a literacy practice. (p. 79)

    And yes, my closed-minded judgment of graffiti would have led to a missed opportunity, as I too would have overlooked graffiti as a literacy practice. Merchant (2010) turned neighborhood graffiti photos into a positive learning experience by posting them on his existing Flickr account where they came to the attention of graffiti artists, who also use Flicker to store images of their own work. He was then drawn into an “affinity space” after receiving illuminating comments on some of the graffiti photographs he had posted (p. 80). According to Merchant (2010), he was later invited to a Graffiti Jam where he came to better understand these artists and their need for a canvas that was met by doing “… ‘illegals’ on warehouse buildings and railway bridges …” (p. 80). He, therefore, experienced what I might describe as a very positive social networking experience, starting with an online community that culminated in a face-face meeting with some of the affinity space members. Flicker facilitated this experience since he had originally  “gone public” with the graffiti photographs using their online platform.

    Later in the chapter Merchant (2010) shares with readers “… how social networking around photographs illustrates some of the central features of Web 2.0, the attraction of user-generated content, and how new practices are emerging which present exciting opportunities for learners and teachers” (p. 81). By posting photographs on Flicker and allowing others to add comments and tags one invites the opportunity for the creation of affinity spaces, where the photo, acting as the social object under discussion, is central to the space. The social affiliation is driven by the photograph. Discussing the photograph causes members of the affinity space to reflect more deeply on it, and the opportunity for valuable reflective learning is created. In our busy world I often feel that I fail to adequately reflect on much of the knowledge I am exposed to, and therefore fail to truly understand it, or recall it when it might prove useful. Hence, I value learning practices that aid me in reflection, and those learning devices which surround an object, where one must take the time to reflect on, and discuss an object are invaluable.

    In this piece Merchant (2010) also introduced me to VoiceThread, which he describes as a tool that promotes “learning through reflection and interaction.” VoiceThread permits the importation of Flicker images and once images have been imported a slideshow can be created. A discussion is then encouraged which is centered on the slideshow and participants can comment in writing, or record a spoken comment (p. 97). I have already signed up for a free (limited) VoiceThread account, as I see where this interactive, multimodal tool could be very useful in teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), which is my passion. This reading presented me with many new ideas and concepts focused on learning with images, which I intend to add to my ever-growing bag of teaching tools.


Merchant, G. (2010). Visual networks: Learning and Photosharing. DIY Media: Creating, Sharing, and Learning with New Technologies, 79-102.

4 thoughts on “Response to Chapter 4: “Visual networks: Learning and Photosharing””

  • Great review. I agree that graffiti is a difficult art from to access. There is some graffiti that is totally unwelcome, I used to live in Downtown Los Angeles and my building was repeatedly graffitied with gang tags, but there was some graffiti that was truly artfully done. I guess it’s one of those art forms that skirts tastefulness like nudity vs. pornography, you know it when you see it.

  • Excellent review Robert! I appreciate hearing how you ‘grapple’ with graffiti as art form and destruction – but mostly I appreciate how, through this reading, you come to see it more broadly as an important and interesting literacy practice.

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