Critical Visual Analysis


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Presented at Computers and Writing 2011 Conference, 21 May 2011

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  • Critical Visual Analysis

    1. 2. <ul><li>Julie Platt </li></ul><ul><li>Michigan State University </li></ul><ul><li>Rhetoric and Writing </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Dànielle Nicole DeVoss </li></ul><ul><li>Michigan State University </li></ul><ul><li>Professional Writing </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>
    3. 4. WHAT’S NEW ABOUT VISUAL RHETORIC? <ul><li>the tools available to merge, mash, and produce multimedia work </li></ul><ul><li>the platforms and networks available to publish, deliver, and distribute multimedia work </li></ul><ul><li>the expectations placed upon us as viewers/readers and producers/creators </li></ul>
    4. 5. <ul><li>“ Preparing students to communicate in the digital world using a full range of rhetorical skills will enable them to analyze and critique both the technological tools and the multimodal texts produced with those tools. ” </li></ul><ul><li>Carolyn Handa </li></ul>
    5. 6. “ By visual literacy, then, I will refer to the ability to read, understand, value, and learn from visual materials (still photographs, videos, films, animations, still images, pictures, drawings, graphics)—especially as these are combined to create a text—as well as the ability to create, combine, and use visual elements (e.g., colors, forms, lines, images) and messages for the purposes of communicating.... visual literacy (or literacies), like all literacies, are both historically and culturally situated, constructed, and valued. ” Cindy Selfe
    6. 7. GIVEN THAT <ul><li>digital and internetworked spaces have changed visual rhetoric and critical analysis dramatically; </li></ul><ul><li>analyzing and composing with visual media in these spaces are exceptionally complex tasks; and </li></ul><ul><li>as composers, scholars and educators, all of us are called upon to be agents of change; </li></ul><ul><li>we look to RHETORICAL ETHICS to frame our discussion today </li></ul>
    7. 8. “ Rhetorical ethics is procedural , it is case specific , it provides some principles (although it does not trust them very much, as it is sensitive to the mandates of particular situations), and it privileges the specific and the concrete over the general and abstract. For these reasons, and because of its flexibility and adaptability in the face of tough cases, it offers an extremely powerful paradigmatic perspective . ” Jim Porter
    8. 9. NOT WHAT, HOW <ul><li>ethics has to do with HOW human beings interact with one another and their environment </li></ul><ul><li>thus, rhetorical ethics concerns “questions about human relations as they are constructed and maintained through discourse” (Porter) </li></ul><ul><li>we use Porter’s approach to rhetorical ethics to frame the questions—and HOW we ask those questions—when engaging in critical visual analysis </li></ul>
    9. 10. SOME ARGUMENTS <ul><li>even though we generally know better , our culture tends to cling to a sense of photographic truth and machine objectivity </li></ul><ul><li>new technologies allow us to represent ourselves—and, more importantly—to represent others in ways that are potentially problematic </li></ul><ul><li>new technologies require us to ask new questions and face new concerns about how we see and how we represent the world </li></ul><ul><li>we currently live in a culture of simulation—where images are created </li></ul>
    10. 11. SOME MORE <ul><li>new technologies produce new media forms which can be more flexible and less “fixed” than print media </li></ul><ul><li>many legal systems currently in place were designed with print and other “fixed” media in mind, but : </li></ul><ul><li>questions of ethics are not the same as questions of legality . </li></ul>
    11. 16. <ul><li>The spoof version was posted on March 4, 2008 under the header, “There Is an International Crisis at 3 A.M.; President Obama Answers the Call.” </li></ul><ul><li>The image refers to a scenario posed in a TV campaign ad released by Hillary Clinton, in late February: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It ’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Something's happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call. Whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military—someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>It could also be regarded as an homage (or a rip-off) of a similar visual joke targeting George W. Bush that circulated in 2005. </li></ul>
    12. 25. [Michelle Pfeiffer in Esquire , 1990]
    13. 26. Instructions for professional touch-up of photo (bill totaled $1500): “ Clean up complexion, soften eye lines, soften smile line, add colour to lips, trim chin. . . soften line under ear lobe. . . add hair to top of head.”
    14. 27. Lisa Marie Presley Jane Magazine cover, September 2003 Total for cover touch-ups and prep: $6500
    15. 29. “ Kate Winslet looks sexier than ever—slim, elegant and self-consciously flirty. ”
    16. 30. <ul><li>Kate Winslet ’s response: </li></ul><ul><li>“ ...I was very pleased with the original shoot and couldn’t understand why they’d retouched it like that. But I needed to come out publicly and say, ‘Look, I haven’t just lost 30lb.’ I didn’t want people to think I was being hypocritical. I don’t look like that. I don’t want to look like that.... The retouching is excessive... I actually have a Polaroid that the photographer gave me on the day of the shoot… I can tell you they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about a third.” </li></ul>
    17. 32. left arm and pants (photo 3) right arm (photo 1) face (photo 2) torso and shirt (digitally created) hair (digitally created) “ It's 100% her.” ( Redbook editor Ellen Kunes)
    18. 34. + = 2002 1999 July 2003
    19. 37. Unedited pic from photoshoot. Cover of Redbook , July 2007.
    20. 38. <ul><li>“ The retouching we did on Faith Hill's photo for the July cover of Redbook is completely in line with industry standards.” </li></ul><ul><li>Stacy Morrison, Redbook Editor-in-Chief </li></ul>
    21. 43. <ul><li>Newsweek ’s policy on altering tones but not subject matter was printed in the December 8, 1997 edition of Newsweek as a “clarification” after the controversy over the magazine's digital straightening of the teeth of Bobbi McCaughey. </li></ul><ul><li>Newsweek ’s full statement read as follows: “In an attempt to lighten shadows on last week’s cover photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Kenny McCaughey, our photo technicians altered the appearance of Bobbi McCaughey’s teeth. While we often correct color values and contrast levels in pictures we use, it is not Newsweek’s policy to change or misrepresent the subject matter in any way. We regret the error.” </li></ul>
    22. 47. <ul><ul><ul><li>“ The harshness of the mug shot—the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson's face, the cold specificity of the picture—had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy” (Managing Editor, Time ). </li></ul></ul></ul>
    23. 52. <ul><li>L.A. Times , Chicago Tribune , and several other publications ran photo front-page </li></ul><ul><li>a Hartford Courant employee noticed that several of the citizens crouching in the background of the photo appeared twice; image examined at 600x in Photoshop </li></ul><ul><li>Hartford Courant employee called managing editor of the L.A. Times; Walski was confronted by via satellite phone, and he confessed to “digitally reworking the image” </li></ul><ul><li>Walski was immediately fired by the L.A. Times editors, who issued a statement saying, “ Times policy forbids altering the content of news photographs” </li></ul>
    24. 53. <ul><li>February 1982: National Geographic magazine cover story on Egypt </li></ul><ul><li>cover photo of the Great Pyramids of Giza </li></ul><ul><li>pyramids were “squeezed” together to fit the magazine’s vertical format </li></ul><ul><li>National Geographic editor called technique “retroactive repositioning of the photographer” </li></ul><ul><li>Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that: “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today.” </li></ul>
    25. 56. ORIGINAL Copyright 1970 Valley Daily News ALTERED 1995 Life Magazine
    26. 57. Life Magazine responds: The photo we published was supplied to us by our photo library—the Time-Life Picture Collection, the second largest such repository of catalogued images. Amazingly, the fence post had been airbrushed out by someone, now anonymous, in a darkroom sometime in the early 1970s. The picture had run numerous times—without the fencepost, and without anyone taking notice—in Time (Nov. 6, 1972, p. 23), People (May 2, 1977, p. 37), Time (Jan. 7, 1980, p. 45), People (April 30, 1990, p. 117), to name just a few publications.
    27. 58. <ul><li> </li></ul>
    28. 62. “ She started out a big kitty and she just seemed to keep growing. She always meowed for more food and would climb up on the counter to eat food which I forgot to cover. Chicken is her favorite. Once I left a cooked chicken on the table that I was going to use for a boat picnic, an hour later the chicken was gone” (email text; readership: hundreds of thousands). “ My daughter wanted to send an electronic photo of her cat to her friend. I got a little carried away. When we sent it to her friend, we never dreamed anyone would believe the photo was real” (Cordell Hauglie, Ottawa Citizen, readership: thousands).
    29. 66. <ul><li>October 2008: Martin Rice, Tampa Bay, FL musician and graphic designer creates image </li></ul><ul><li>adds note: “Unfortunately, this is what the country wants”; sends the pic to three friends </li></ul><ul><li>within one week, CNN, ABC, and other networks are distributing the image, and it appears on more than 1000 blogs </li></ul>
    30. 75.
    31. 88. SO WHAT? <ul><li>the act of composing “ requires a commitment ” (Porter); we can ’ t escape this. </li></ul><ul><li>technologies are never neutral; they are created by humans and are situated socially, culturally, and historically </li></ul><ul><li>a rhetorical-ethical lens can help us approach contemporary digital-visual spaces in responsible ways </li></ul>
    32. 89. “ In taking the perspective of the writer (or rhetor) rhetoric focuses on the issue of the writer’s (and writers’) responsibility toward readers [. . .] What obligations do have as the teacher of a writing class toward members of a class who can be victimized by the electronic speech of others? What obligations do I have as a teacher of writing to encourage members of my class to be responsible, fair, and ethical electronic writers?” Jim Porter
    33. 90. WHAT ABOUT FREE SPEECH? <ul><li>these examples [are?/are not?] the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater… </li></ul><ul><li>… but does it matter? in what ways? Issues of “visual truth” complicate free speech. </li></ul><ul><li>Porter points out “free speech” can be a starting point but not a heuristic </li></ul>
    34. 91. CONCLUSIONS <ul><li>We cannot simply concern ourselves with what we can do in digital-visual spaces. </li></ul><ul><li>There is no definite answer, no universal set of principles that determine what we should do in these spaces. </li></ul><ul><li>A rhetorical-ethical lens helps us to effectively ask the complex questions of how we should proceed as composers and consumers. </li></ul>
    35. 92. THANK YOU!