word pictures, picture pictures …

June 10, 2009 § 8 Comments

Snarl borrowed my camera today, my “good” one, to shoot a story for the St Louis Beacon where he’s interning.
He called me at work to say he loves my camera.
Now he’s had a taste of a digital SLR.
Uh oh.

He said that juggling a camera and interviewing for the story, too, is tough. Will this be the way of the reporter? Yesterday he would have said that a writer writes, a photographer shoots. Now he’s faced with doing both.

I wonder if it will change news reporting for him, to be able to take pictures to go with his writing, to handle both “arts” himself.
That’s a challenge for a news writer.
But the visual and the textual continue to marry, not to blur the lines of the two disciplines but to sharpen impact, to give the reader even more “story.”

Many entries ago, I was rattling on and on the power of visuals (photos, graphics, etc) combined text and the power of the two combined.  Shoreacres mentioned something called “visual rhetoric.” 

The only place I found a definition  in my very abbreviated hunt was on good old (and oft unreliable) Wikipedia. 

Madison Ave makes excellent use of visual rhetoric however the definition below is apparently edging away from the use of graphic and words to sell something. “VR” is a bit of something else.  See what you think. It’s a little tough to put your finger on, kind of like a Morrison or Pynchon novel.

 So, the following  pieces defining visual rhetoric are below, though not in entirety… 

“Visual rhetoric is the fairly recent development of a theoretical framework describing how visual images communicate, as opposed to aural or verbal messages. The study of visual rhetoric is different from that of visual or graphic design, in that it emphasizes images as rational expressions of cultural meaning, as opposed to mere aesthetic consideration (Kress and van Leeuwen 18).

Visual rhetoric examines also the relationship between images and writing. Some examples of artifacts analyzed by visual rhetoricians are charts, paintings, sculpture, diagrams, web pages, advertisements, movies, architecture, newspapers, photographs, etc.

Visual rhetoric is a broader study, covering all the visual ways humans try to communicate, outside academic policing (Kress 11).

Visual tropes and tropic thinking are a part of visual rhetoric (the art of visual persuasion and visual communication using visual images). The study includes, but is not limited to, the various ways in which it can be applied throughout visual art history.

The term “visual rhetoric” has emerged mainly as a way of marking out disciplinary territory for scholars interested in non-textual artifacts such as those mentioned above; conceptually, the term “visual rhetoric” is itself somewhat problematic. It is usually used to denote non-textual artifacts, yet any mark on a surface — including text — can be seen as “visual.” Consider the texts available at Project Gutenberg. These “plain vanilla” texts, lacking any visual connection to their original, published forms, nevertheless suggest important questions about visual rhetoric. Their bare-bones manner of presentation implies, for example, that the “words themselves” are more important than the visual forms in which the words were originally presented. Given that such texts can easily be read by a speech synthesizer, they also suggest important questions about the relationship between writing and speech, or orality and literacy.

I am not yet ready to paraphrase any of the above. Still wrapping my arms around it. Still wondering if there’s any thing “new” about it.  Snarl would argue, and no likely he will, that photos with news stories are indeed actual stories in themselves and not there to blur any lines, do any aesthetic thing.
Well, yes, probably true. 
I’ll ask Snarl about  theory when he finishes the assignment and hands the camera back. Please.

Nonetheless, there is overall a move, forged by many amateur and published artists  to make interesting use of  combining words and images for power. Not movies, not ads, not photo books with cutlines, not posters … it’s something more. See what you can make of it.
For starters, do you read blogs that have no pictures?


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§ 8 Responses to word pictures, picture pictures …

  • I do read blogs that have no pictures, but I’m more attracted to blogs that do have pictures, as long as the pictures are connected to the focus of the text.

    • oh says:

      Aha, that is it. I hadn’t thought about it, not taking it apart to examine it, but you’re right – the pictures must be connected to the focus of the text!

      I am going to look more closely to see how that goes. (I know I’m guilty of throwing in something surreal now and then that just doesn’t go.)

      And somtimes when I write and do NOT include a picture, I feel funny, like I’m cheating. However, if the writing were good, perhaps the picture is extraneous…I don’t know. So glad you commented here. I’m still thinking about the concept.

  • shoreacres says:

    It’s very interesting. I’ll be perfectly happy reading a book that has no pictures, but there’s something about text on a screen that seems to require something “more”. Most websites and blogs go over the top with unrelated graphics, animated gifs and such. But related images or artistic placement on the page seem to be crucial.

    You may or may not have noticed that even when I’m dealing with large chunks of text on my blog, I’ll indicate a “break” in the flow of thought by inserting a very small, very elegant little graphic. It’s always the same, and always used for the same purpose,just as I always have my “Mucha Lady” as a header image and always use the same format. It’s good for recognition, and good for reader comfort.

    Interesting that my current post was constructed with a lot of attention to how to meld photos and text in telling one story. If you haven’t met Godot yet, come visit – especially since I was trying some things you write about here.

    Great post!

    • oh says:

      It’s true. We read books, hundreds and hundreds of pages with nary a picture even though we were raised on picture books to chapter books to finally, books with no pictures. It was a rite of passage to engage in a book that had chapters and no pictures; it was a graduation. I think my first book without any pictures or illustrations (back then!) was an Uncle Wiggly book. I was so delighted and drove the household crazy announcing the fact that I was into big kids’ books. I remember the look my older brother would give me. (funny, really!) And so our books are ok without them although memoirs began introducing them back again. Sure biographies have always stuck them in, usually bunched together in the middle of the book, but memoirs like A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT started inserting them, but did so very smartly. So maybe we’re moving towards a melting pot of books-n-pictures. Or, not. Meanwhile, can you imagine a magazine without photos? no!
      I will confess that one (of the many) levels I enjoy about your blog is your graphic and illustration and image use. It catches my imagination and flows and floats along with your writing in the loveliest combination. Elegant, yes!

  • Arti says:

    Interesting thought and this is the kind of topics that can be extended into a dissertation even! Really, literacy has certainly gained some new meaning in this day. I’m afraid this is what our younger generation has been raised on, visual stimulations. The medium is the message. Just hope that the beauty of language and words would not go into oblivion in the distant, or not so distant, future.

    • oh says:

      Hi, Arti, I did think about buying a book that went into the “definition” of visual rhetoric but when I looked it up on Amazon, it was approx $200!!!! so I’ll just keep an eye on it from publicly available data! You are right, quoting McLuhan’s “medium is the message.” And like you, I will always hope that words win out.

    • Arti says:

      Hi oh,

      Thanks for linking Ripple Effects to your Blogroll. But when I clicked on it, it leads me to another site. I found out the reason is because the ‘s’ of ‘Effects’ is missing on your link. My URL is rippleeffects dot wordpress dot com. Thanks!

  • jeanie says:

    Wow — I’ve much to catch up on here, and this is an intriguing place to start. I have heard that term, but never really delved into it. And I think your conversation in the comments is fascinating.

    Well, it’s too early for me to have enough brains to dig into visual rhetoric (not to mention intelligence, which doesn’t seem to always be the same thing.) But when I read this, the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” came to my head. I love images. (As you know), and MOST of the time, I like them to be related, but sometimes they don’t have to be. I just like them. And like others, I TEND to move toward copy with graphics in the blog world, but much of this is my visual bent.

    Having said that, there are those posts that do not “need” a photo to capture me, writers whose words alone paint the picture. And so again, I’m a mass of contradictions.

    Was it you or Linda who first mentioned that books don’t usually have illustrations and we don’t require them? That’s interesting! But I will say I’m beginning to see a few more graphics in books — perhaps maps or family trees or as you mentioned, photos. I wonder if that changes the magic — like we often are when seeing a movie version where the lead looks nothing like how we imagined…

    But that’s a comment for another post! To be continued on EPLove!

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