Adam Haley, PhD

LEAP/ENGL 15: Photography and Writing

[Note: this course was a part of Penn State’s LEAP program, in which a writing or speaking course is paired with another course, with the same cohort of students.  This course was paired with an introductory photography course.]

As Andre Agassi and Canon told us in 1990, image is everything.  Over the last half-century, the photographic image has come to dominate the cultural and rhetorical landscape (where text and speech used to reign supreme), and visual literacy has become increasingly indispensable.  We are subjected to images as constantly and relentlessly as we ourselves are captured and circulated in image form; advertising offers us images, surveillance cameras take our images, and iPhones live somewhere in between the two.  As a way of thinking rigorously and broadly about rhetoric and writing, this course will unpack what it means to compose—textually, photographically—in the era of the image, as we’re surrounded by and immersed in both the products and the processes of photography.  How has the advent and near ubiquity of photography changed writing?  What literacies has it made more or less important?  How do we navigate constantly being on one end of a camera or the other?

As befits both a good photographer and a good rhetorician, we will examine the relationship between writing, persuasion, and photography from multiple angles: how do visual and photographic images function rhetorically? How do they operate differently from text or speech? But also: how does persuasion, even in plain text, depend on the phenomenon of the image? How does persuasive writing conjure images in its audience’s heads, and how do those images embody or enable the act of persuasion? And: why are images so powerful in human culture, to the point that we go to war for flags, threaten violence over cartoons, and regulate or outright censor various kinds of visual depictions? What makes the image so potent, and how might it help us understand rhetoric more broadly? En route to addressing these questions, we will encounter photography, comics, painting, film, writing, speech; we will think about fiction, non-fiction, and various points in between; we will wade into debates about the production, consumption, and circulation of various kinds of images, and about what it is to live in an image society, for good or ill. In so doing, we will illuminate both the rhetoric of images and the images at the heart of rhetoric, and along the way, we will sharpen our own rhetorical, compositional, and stylistic toolkits.


See the course website here and the syllabus here (PDF).


[photo by Nick Foster, shared under Creative Commons]


Adam Haley • June 26, 2014

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