In this course a small but devoted cadre of graduate students explored the definition of visual rhetoric through a close reading of a set of exhibits of our choice. We researched and wrote about photographs, motion pictures, billboards, statistical tables and graphs, how-to manuals, pictograms, and theatrical lighting as media and genre. At the same time, we investigated the history and rhetorical contexts of the exhibits – war and death; poverty and wealth; family and law; disease and injury prevention; sport and the modern Olympics; journalism and advertising. Within and between the powerful examples presented here, the links are many.
You’ll find images of war, ranging from “The Crimean War, Roger Fenton and the Birth of Photojournalism” (1853-56) to “Larry Burrows: Shooting Soldiers In Vietnam” (1956- 1975), and contemporary images of the 2014 conflict in the Ukraine in “Crimean Status Referendum Billboards.” Included here also is “Cultural Context and Post-Mortem Photography–Honoring President Lincoln,” a discussion of the “lost” photograph of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin that seems to reveal American values toward death, post-war politics, and family in 1865. War and post-war recovery are also themes in “A Pictorial Narrative of the Philippines:1889-1934 and Real Photography Postcards.” Here the site explores examples from Dean Worcester’s enthographic collection, once used to justify American colonization in the Philippine Islands during the Philippine-American War (1899–1902).
Another metaphorical war, led by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, was “The War on Poverty,” as promoted by the photojournalism of John Dominis appearing in LIFE, the most widely circulated domestic weekly periodical in 1964. LIFE Magazine’s John Dominis photographed families in several parts of Eastern Kentucky’s coal wastelands; isolated communities in the mountains with no available jobs or resources, surviving on government provided rations. With his photographs, the war on poverty was given a face. In our site, you’ll also find evidence from the on-going economic contest between poverty and aspirations for wealth as played out in the U.S. public school and university systems in “Misrepresentations in Information Graphics: the American Educational Experience.” As a close reading of examples shows, data-based graphics can both reveal and mask important differences between institutions as well as between educational ideals and classroom realities.
Laws designed to promote the greater good similarly can similarly blur distinctions between moral ideals and the reality of human behavior, and photojournalism can underscore such divides. This legal contradiction is reminiscent of the prohibition period (1920-1933) in the U.S. when some states legalized the possession and sale of alcohol while the federal government still forbade it. We present here the work of Leslie Jones, a news photographer working for the Boston Herald Traveler during the prohibition period. Jones’s choice of technologies, the camera, and the rhetorical appeals his images embed, reveal the political climate of the age.
Another contested site is the human body, reflected in our efforts to understand, prevent, and treat disease and injury. When reasoning about quantitative evidence, an effective graph expresses clear analysis and logic of data, context for assessing cause and effect, quantitative comparisons, and alternative or contrary cases. William Carter explores the effectiveness of three Sickle Cell Anemia probability charts by questioning how well the information is expressed based on characteristics of visual data from authors Edward Tufte and Julie Steele. Illustrations can also be designed to prevent and explain injury. In “Safety in Numbers: Dietmar Otte’s Motorcycle Helmet Impact Diagram,” Mark Taylor analyzes the rhetorical contexts that surround the use of a specific diagram. Of particular interest is the way communities of use alter the diagram to support their rhetorical stances.
The rapid development of communication technology continues to alter and expand the ways in which people interact. In “Socket Wrenches and Wands: ‘How to’ Guides and the Act of Deciphering the Service Manual,” Mark Taylor examines how the increased production and use of internet “how to” guides and videos alters the relationship between amateur and expert mechanics. Close attention is paid to how these guides use images and graphics to translate the often context-minimal language of the service manual into a context-rich language of colleagues.
The sports area is another rhetorically contested site. Even with the written language of today pictograms are still being used as a communication tool for everything from bathroom signage to road signage and everything in between, but many of the images you know today originated from Olympic pictograms. “Olympic pictograms are those stick figure pictures that depict each Olympic sport. Today they’re everywhere: at Olympic venues, on tickets and event schedules, on TV. They were simple drawings representing certain events, a bike for cycling, a basket for basketball, a pair of boxing gloves” (Porzucki).These pictograms serve as the premise of universal communication and the broad appeal of sports. In the same theme, one boxing match exceeded all expectations, both in revenue and social and political significance – Ali versus Frazier in 1971. It featured the brash former champion, forced into exile for refusing the draft into the armed forces during the Vietnam War, versus the conservative, blue collar man.
The theatre, film, and television are also site of visual rhetoric as well as poetics. The manipulation of light and shadows can be done in real time through lighting transitions; the effect can provoke mood or change atmosphere at the whim of the lighting designer. Before the creation of the daguerreotype, which achieved worldwide and historical recognition, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre amazed audiences by exhibiting real-time transitions from day to night within huge, detailed paintings of iconic locals such as the Rossyln Chapel in a theatrical experience created by his diorama theatres. The diorama was a precursor to the cinema and moving pictures. Through rapid photography, successive image placement becomes possible. Photographic and cinematic artists would continually contribute and compete to aggrandize and extend the barriers and applications of rapid photography. This contention would eventually give way to the art of motion pictures that we know and enjoy today.
In today’s media entertainment, product placement has come to play such a starring role because the strategy of integrated marketing communication (known as IMC) has fostered an awareness of how pieces of public perception can complement each other. In the past 25 years it has grown dramatically and plays a giant role in our brand-consumerist world starting with the legendary placement of Reese’s Pieces in E.T.. Today, product placement is its own industry and has powerhouses such as Apple.
Advertising in print media is essentially rhetorical. The VW advertisements of the 1960s were considered a success in part because they sold a lot of cars, but what really set in stone their success was how they turned the marketing world on its head. Their marketing schemes attempted to associate the product being advertised with an idea or way of living. As Garfield put it, “Beetle ownership allowed you to show off that you didn’t need to show off.”
We’ve drawn images from the Library of Congress, from museums, and from the archives of Life Magazine. Wherever possible, we’ve linked back to our sources, and we have compiled a Works Cited for the benefit of others conducting allied research. We hope that you find the site as visually rich and valuable as the research behind it has been for us.
The conception of cinema derived from a collage of fast-moving, still-frame photographs. This invention not only revolutionized the entertainment industry, but scientific exploration as well. The recording of a moment not only captures that peculiar moment indefinitely, but allows that recording to be stored, modified, investigated, and replayed at the discretion of the visual user. The visual information may now be meticulously analyzed for the sake of understanding.