This page is an entry in the Key.

photographic literacy

“Photographic literacy” is the term used on this website to describe the ability of adults to “read” the photographs they encounter.

Photographic literacy starts at a very early age, when a baby first realizes that they are looking at a portrayal of a three-dimensional scene (for example, “a photo of food”) and not at the scene itself (“food”).

See #231 for more on this distinction.

Photographic literacy is the main tool that members of the public use when they instantly decide whether or not to trust an unfamiliar photograph.

Photographic literacy is such an integral part of our culture that its role is taken for granted and it is rarely discussed at all, but everyone relies heavily on photographic literacy who publishes photographs that are intended to be trusted.

Awareness of the public’s “photographic literacy” is what gives respected news agencies the confidence to publish photographs that reflect the limitations of the medium.

Photographic literacy is not a static (unchanging) thing. With literally billions more people now carrying cameras all the time than were doing so just a generation ago, the general public is far more “photographically literate” now than it was at the turn of the 21st century.

See also What the public knows about how undoctored photographs “work”