The image of science

Journalism is an interesting and challenging career, indeed, and practicing a specialization like science journalism is an even bigger one. Especially so when you write for a daily newspaper in a city like Guatemala. The illiteracy is about 40 percent, and many of the people who learned to read or attended only elementary school, after the years, are not used to reading anymore. It is what specialists in education call “functional illiteracy”.

So, journalists must make not only attractive articles, but creative illustrations or photos to catch the attention of their audience.

In printed media the role of an image is crucial. It has to reinforce the written message or must help to explain it deeply. To do so, journalists have to work together with an illustrator or photographer; they have to agree about the right way to grab the readers´ eyes.

The image must be friendly and simple but effective. Sometimes the draws are joined by photos, in order to better explain the message. And the author must remember that his creation is going to be for an audience that will not have a scientific background, or worse, might not even be interested in the subject. So, the challenge is big.

Marvin Olivares, a Guatemalan visual artist, says that the image does not have to be a masterpiece. Even though the illustration structure can be complex, the final presentation has to be easy to understand. The colors do not have to be so dark, because of the low quality of the paper used to print the daily, sometimes they get darker.

The techniques illustrators can use are many. But in many cases, because of its flexibility they prefer to use water colors. At present time the work is easier because of computers.

“About the style, it depends on the subject; it can be a cartoon that in a humorous way explains a complex situation. Also, it can be a technique illustration that shows the inside parts of something. Of course, the final decision is up to the daily editorial focus”, says Olivares.

Olivares says that in the 70´s and 80´s there were artists in Guatemala City like Erwin Guillermo, Moisés Barrios and Carlos Letona who stood out in  making medical illustrations.

For example, they made pieces about how a drug works or how a person experiences a headache. “They had a tremendous flexibility to create an analogy as well as a descriptive illustration”. Of course, many of these pieces were made for pharmaceutical companies.

Until the 90´s, when in Guatemala City some scientific illustrations started to appear in the daily newspapers.

So, in Guatemala and many other Latin American countries alike, there is a big field to explore in illustrating science. There are enormous possibilities for artists, photographers and illustrators who wish to make something different. But the first and most important thing to do is give  science journalism the importance it has and deserves.

We must work hard at opening doors in the media so journalists and creative designers and illustrators can get a better job; we would be growing in a professional way and also, we would be helping society to be more and better informed about science.