Welcome to Off-Topic, a visual culture newsletter!

About Off-Topic

I think that the best way to utilize this space is to answer a few of the questions I’m most frequently asked when I tell people that I write a newsletter about visual culture.

“Meghan, what is visual culture?”

Great question, I’m so glad you asked!

In short, “visual culture” is an interdisciplinary catch-all. It is the exploration of any medium with a crucial visual component, and how those mediums in turn impact or reflect human culture and society. It is the study of how imagery can be used to communicate, as well as the study of what ideas we choose to convey through visual channels.

Prized works of art and influential films are covered by visual culture. But so are the memes you have saved on your iPhone, and the photographs you have framed of your loved ones. Performances, rituals, data visualizations, virtual realities, and semiotics are parts of visual culture, too. Technology weaves its way into the equation when you consider how innovations such as television and the internet are used to broadcast imagery on a scale so grand that our very perceptions of reality have been permanently altered.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Visual culture’s massive reach undoubtedly makes it an intimidating topic to approach. However, the immeasurable impact that the imagery we consume has on how we navigate and understand the universe makes it a worthy subject to try to understand.

“Why write a newsletter on such expansive, nebulous subject matter?”

Back in college, I studied photography. I have always loved taking pictures – I still carry a camera or two with me almost any time I leave the house.

But as I learned the fundamentals of the medium and looked at the work my cohorts were producing, one thing became increasingly clear. As much as I enjoyed the act of taking pictures myself, I was infinitely more interested in what others were trying to capture and communicate with the images they produced. I ultimately fell in love with photography because the camera’s accessibility has encouraged creativity among people historically excluded from conversations concerning art and imagery. My attempts to discover more about the history, value, and impact of amateur photography and the snapshot subsequently introduced me to the world of visual culture.

As visual culture began dominating more and more of my waking thoughts, three things became evident:

  1. Visual media undoubtedly has the power to manipulate our thoughts, feelings, habits, perceptions, and notions of beauty. Likewise, the visual media we produce can reveal the innermost attitudes of a culture at a specific time.

  2. Despite its relevance in an increasingly connected, visually-oriented world, there is a distinct scarcity of material focused on the topic of visual culture itself. Much of the literature that does exist is scholarly in a way that makes it largely inaccessible to individuals without higher education in philosophy or the arts.

  3. The works that are discussed in the context of visual culture are considered high art, largely neglecting the “lower” visual media many people interact with most often (prime-time television coverage, advertisements, just about anything you encounter as you scroll through your social media)

Taking all of that into consideration, Off-Topic is an attempt to corral some of the odds and ends that contribute to modern visual culture and present them in a way that’s accessible to regular people. This newsletter seeks to examine the influences behind and the impact of the imagery we encounter each day.

As tired as the old saying is, there’s some degree of truth to the adage that “a picture is worth 1,000 words”. However, sometimes the most engaging words have less to do with the subject matter itself and more to do with both the tangible and metaphysical impacts the picture imparts on others.

“How can I learn more about visual culture?”

Though I’m admittedly a biased source, one of the easiest ways that I can think of is to subscribe to this newsletter now! When you do, new installments will be sent directly to your email inbox or the Substack app feed straight away. With both free and paid subscription options available, you can directly support the production of more content!

Thanks for stopping by – I hope you’ll stick around for a while!
— Meghan

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A weird and wonderful dive into the depths of visual culture.


Meghan's my name, pretending to know what I'm talking about is my game.