Recent Blog Posts

Exposure to Exploitation

Image of a South Vietnamese ManImage Credit: Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds

This past week my students and I were considering the representation of the Vietnam war in network news coverage and in documentary films such as Peter Davis' Hearts and Minds (1974).  Several of the images we considered depict bodies in pain or men, women, and children dead or dying.  As we discussed the appeals to the emotions of the viewer at work in these images, the conversation gradually turned to the ethics of the photographers and filmmakers but I left the classroom wondering about the ethics of teaching these images.

Visualizing Revision: The Case of Origin of Species

Screenshot of Preservation of Favoured Traces

Image credit: Ben Fry

This month, Ben Fry at Seed launched a project called The Preservation of Favoured Traces, a visualization tool that allows us to witness how Origin of Species evolved across six revisions during Darwin’s lifetime. The results are intriguing not only for those of us who teach rhetoric of science (and who secretly harbor a crush on Charles Darwin, especially during his mutton-chop phase), but for scholars interested in how textual history might be visualized.

White House, Green House

Michelle Obama Farmer's Market
Image Credit: The New York Times

Nestled between the white monuments of Washington D.C. is a new dash of green. On September 17th, Washington D.C. opened a weekly farmer's market near the White House. This opening, ceremoniously attended by Michelle Obama as well as hundreds of shoppers, led me to think about the ways in which the First Lady has championed the sustainability movement. One of her first ceremonial acts as a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was to plant a garden. The White House website includes a film about digging this garden and compares Michelle Obama to Eleanor Roosevelt, the only other First Lady to plant produce on the White House lawns. In her remarks at the opening of the Farmer's Market, Michelle Obama refers to the White House gardens as "one of the greatest things that I've done in my life so far" and describes supporting the Farmer's Market as an extension of her commitment to making healthy food more widely accessible.

Visualizing 'Green'

Thin Ice photos

Image credit: From Maureen R. Drennan
H/T to Artist as Citizen Burning Embers Competition

This series of photos by Maureen Drennan resonates with the way I have been thinking about environmental activism. The photographs tell a story of ice-fishing communities in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota and depict ordinary ice-fishers: bright-eyed children over plastic gallon fishing buckets, seasoned fishers in pullovers and camouflage, and bright cabins in contrast to the winter white. There are also pictures of cracks in the ice.

Visual Rhetoric of Crisis?

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with summer; and I know it's the end of summer, because people are sending me urgent messages requesting a description of the course I plan on teaching this fall. What I've come up with so far is a course on "Crisis Rhetoric". One of the primary questions the course will seek to answer is whether there is such a thing as a legitimately, discretely definable "crisis rhetoric." How does the art of persuasion change in situations of crisis, and how can the art of persuasion be used to create a sense of crisis in any given public sphere?

10 Things I Could Improve About You

Just spotted at, one of today's most popular tagged items: 10 Ways to Look Good in Photos. I'm not sure what's more perplexing: the fact that this was published in Reader's Digest, or No. 5: "As a rule, avoid patterns." But in a world where digital photography is everywhere (even the most basic cell phones come equipped with cameras now, yes?) and when photos of yourself you didn't even know were taken can show up on Facebook in the morning, maybe it is best to be prepared. Always. My favorite is No. 9:

Study photogenic people as well as photos in which you think you looked best. Look at your best angle. You'll probably see that you were laughing or having a good time. Capturing someone when they’re relaxed or most animated usually makes for the best results.

In other words, always remember to follow that most terrible commandment: enjoy yourself! Or at least, try to look like you are.

Fast Food, Remixed

Napoleon made from Wendy's bacon burger

Image credit: From Fancy Fast Food
H/T to The Daily Dish

In an earlier blog post on viz., I sent readers to a web site exposing the vast difference between photographs used to market fast food and the reality served in restaurants. Today's entry is a bit different: it points us to a blog, Fancy Fast Food, with pictures of what happens when fast food value meals are transformed into gourmet delights (along with the recipes used to make them). Obviously, these intrepid food stylists are having some fun at the expense of fast food (one recipe recommends organic chives "for garnish, and a touch of irony"). The picture above shows a Napoleon made from a Wendy's "Baconator" value meal (including fries, drink, and ketchup).

Recommended Reads on Blogging, Visual Rhetoric

For this week, instead of a visual analysis, I offer a pair of reading recommendations . This is in keeping with the spirit, if not the explicit aim, of viz., to analyze visual culture and serve as a forum for anyone interested in same. While thinking ahead about what is in store for this site and what directions it might take in the coming year, both articles offer useful reflections.

Review: Food, Inc.

Movie Poster for Food, Inc.This weekend, partly out of personal interest and partly in relation to a project I'm working on for the CWRL, I saw the new documentary Food, Inc. What follows is a brief "review" of the film (in other words, my scattered response to it) and some ideas for incorporating the film in the classroom (I assume it will be released on DVD sometime in the fall). I won't be discussing the visual rhetoric of the film in depth, but will instead focus on the film as the visual presentation of an argument about food.

The opening credits of Food, Inc. present viewers with a tour of the modern American supermarket and the cornucopia of brightly colored packages filling it. The audience is later informed by voiceover narration that this supermarket contains somewhere around 47,000 products. In one of the film's more sardonic moments, we are also informed that an astonishingly high number of these products are made with elements derived from a single ingredient: corn. This arc covered by the film, from the universal supermarket to the particular kernel, establishes its intention of uncovering the origins of the American food supply. Food, Inc. tells the story of industrial agriculture for an audience that, it presumes, is largely unfamiliar with where (or what), exactly, its next meal is coming from.

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