Towards the end of visual capitalism
Visualizing the History of Pandemics
By now, as to be expected from a news situation as engrossing as this one, the compulsion to reach an (or even the image) of the pandemic (if not the world history of pandemics), is tantamount. The visual production on/of the crisis has been accelerating for weeks and has since entered its competitive phase.
Map of European countries that have (or haven’t yet) closed their schools (The Guardian, March 16, 2020)
Photo editors and designers for news outlets such as The Guardian are constantly feeding the collective imaginary, sometimes in the form of helpful collections of visual aids to cope with the crisis, but mostly with editorial artwork deploying the key visual tropes of the moment — the „battlestar“ virus and humans seeking protection from it through items such as gloves and face masks.
In addition to these standard visual responses, however, there’s a strand of creativity and inventiveness in infographics that capitalizes on the situation, using it as an opportunity to enrich and extend their portfolio. Consider the site of infographic agency Visual Capitalist, popular among World Economic Forum folks and followers. Apparently, with their „visual history of pandemics,“ the people of Visual Capitalist are prepared to turn the crisis into an/their image. Visual Capitalist’s mission statement reads sufficiently self-confident in this regard. „Visual Capitals exists for one reason – to help make this complex world a little easier to understand. Humanity generates a staggering 2.5 exabytes of data every day, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to glean insight from the tsunami of information we’re exposed to. We cut through the spin and noise of the news cycle to highlight big picture global trends, and explore the context that gets overlooked. We use data-driven, powerful visuals to keep millions of people around the world ahead of the curve.“
This is not to say the VC should be blamed for doing what they are doing. Their reading, processing, and translating of the data may prove to be actually a viable contribution to the solving of the crisis. It is the competitive drive behind these enterprises in visualization that makes one wonder how they relate to all the other races (scientific, medical, technological, political, economical …) to increase insight, provide rescue, develop a vaccine, etc., as they can be witnessed currently — while the default modes of capitalist competition are being taken on hold, to become suspended step by step as the crisis unfolds. Competing for the right, and that is, the most useful image in times such as these, should cease to be a race for property rights, commercialization and gatekeeping – visual capitalism (even if it is meant ironically, as to suspected in the case of Visual Capitalist) has definitely reached a deadlock. TH
16.03.2020, 02 / Rosa Mercedes