Visual Rhetoric—Static Image

Analysis of a Static Image

Core Value II of the Writing Arts Department emphasizes the importance of Information Literacy, a phrase more expansive than Literacy, which we ordinarily associate with written texts, the ability to read, write, and interact with language.

Your Guide to the First-Year Writing Program devotes a large section to a full description of the components of various media (including visual media), from which this is an excerpt:

Core Value II: Close and critical reading/analysis is necessary for listening to and questioning texts, arriving at a thoughtful understanding of those texts, and joining the academic and/or public conversations represented by those texts.

Writers create texts to communicate ideas, and they make specific compositional choices in their writing to achieve their goals. These choices are in terms of language, materials/mediums (physical and/or digital), and other compositional elements, including typography, layout, design, images, sound, editing, and more. As readers, we must analyze these elements to determine the authors’ meanings, as well as the ideologies that have shaped the ideas and how they are expressed/presented through texts. Readers engage with texts not only to understand their meanings and listen to other authors but also to question them.

We’ll begin that practice today by examining the header image for our class blog, the set of photographs that morph former President Donald Trump’s official photograph with that of current President Joe Biden’s.

You’ll notice, of course, that the images get weird toward the middle, where an unholy alliance between the two men results in something nobody would willingly elect: a 50/50 Donald Biden or Joe Trump.

As an image without context, it can mean whatever the viewer chooses for it to mean.

  1. It could be used, for example, to demonstrate how similar America’s presidents are or choose to be portrayed. The somber suits and blue ties, the choice of patriotic backgrounds, the straight-ahead poses and big-toothed smiles are apparently part of how presidents choose to see themselves, or how Americans choose to see our presidents.

If you were doing a research paper and discovered this image while scouring the academic databases of scholarly articles, you would consider it a “source.” The methodology of this course, after finding sources, is to ask and answer two questions:

How effectively did the author USE this material to demonstrate a meaningful and clear claim?

How can I respectfully use this material to demonstrate
my own meaningful and clear claim?

As a class of 22 students and 1 professor, we might answer the first question 23 different ways, depending on what claim(s) we thought the author of the graphic intended to make.

Further, if we each decided to incorporate the graphic into visual/textual arguments of our own, we might produce 23 different arguments. Let’s look at two and answer the Big Questions about them.


Of the two, which seems the more reasonable interpretation? Is it clearer now which message the creator intended? Or can the image be used equally well to convey both messages? What does this tell you about the power of images? What does it say about the power of language to frame how we experience what we see?

In Class Exercise

As a Reply to this post, argue for the effectiveness of each of the static image “posters” above. Then use each poster as a source to make your own claim about America, or elections, or the presidency, or these two presidents. In other words, answer the two questions about each of the two posters.

1 Response to Visual Rhetoric—Static Image

  1. minutemen14 says:

    I feel the transition most accurately depicts the meaning of the second poster.The first one seems a bit confusing saying that there is finally a leader for all Americans, when in fact the poster is depicting the transition between two. The second poster, regardless of how you feel about it, shows the transition and is saying that one leader has morphed into the other as if seamless. Its slogan “same as the old boss” makes more sense then finally a leader (singular) for all Americans.


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