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Visual Media and Rhetorical Potential

by Zack Shaw

Supporting Statement and Research Aims for “Visual Media and Rhetorical Potential”
My video essay project, “Visual Media and Rhetorical Potential,” stems both from work I have done on my own Master’s thesis and current dissertation. As a scholar, I have become fascinated by the ways that different media communicate and specifically with animation functions as a media amidst André Bazin’s notion of visual ontology. This particular project aims to guide audience members through a tour of the visual rhetorical affordances of four major visual media (photography, film, painting, and animation). I begin with a digital painting that I made of “what I imagined a canal in Venice would look like.” I briefly discuss visual representation through painting before showing a photograph of that same canal in Venice. My digital painting obviously comes directly from the photograph that I had taken in Venice. The reason I chose to show the painting first is to show that illustrative media represents what the real “would look like,” and also that the digital painting earns back several degrees of realism for spectators once they become aware that it is a stencil painting made from an origin photograph taken of a real sight at one point in time. The experiment with the two visual modes and realism refers to Bazin’s understanding of photographic realism and his “Myth of Total Cinema.”
In the digital age, however, the mimetic ontology of photography is challenged by digital alteration and fabrication, and this challenge leads to the second section of the video: “The Digital Turn.” The second section quotes Mary Ann Doane as she describes that
With the advent of digital media, photography, in particular, has seemingly lost its credibility as a trace of the real, and it could be argued that the media in general face a certain crisis of legitimation. The digital offers an ease of manipulation and distance from any referential grounding that seem to threaten the immediacy and certainty of referentiality we have come to associate with photography. (1)
During this section, I show digital manipulation taking place through the use of Adobe Photoshop tools. I also refer to long-held maxims about the truth value of sight, such as “seeing is believing” and the more modern rendition that regards the photographic: “pics or it didn’t happen.” These notions of the dominion of photography over the visual representations of the real continue to break down with increasing ease of access to the digital tools of photographic alteration and filtration.
The third section “The Cinema and Animation” moves on from this discussion of the challenge to photographic realism, to instead discuss the realism of the animated image as well as animated rhetorics. I begin the final section discussing the advent of movement to visual representation, or the illusion of movement, in the cinema and animation. I position the cinema, as Bazin does, as one step further towards visual veracity with the real, moving beyond the death of the stagnant image in photography. Accordingly, I transition in this section from displaying still images and photographs to showing cinematic images with the illusion of movement. I then discuss animated media as a departure from the established technological narrative, whereby new technologies are invented and improve the ability to depict the real—or at least the visually mimetic. Illustrative animation may seem to be one step forward from photography (presenting the illusion of movement), yet two steps backward on that technological narrative, as it uses illustration, rather than photographic capture, to depict the real. However, I assert that rather than a step backwards, animation is more of a step in another direction, due to its ability to depict psychologically and emotionally resonant visuals. During this discussion, I show an animated clip from Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), which I have always found particularly fascinating, given the common belief of animation as a medium for youth audiences. As I continue thinking along these lines, my dissertation discusses the rhetorical potential of animation as a medium with the ability to depict the abstract, the sensorial, and the traumatic. I then show and discuss a mixed media sequence from Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). The sequence mixes animation and live-action, and as I describe, “the real becomes colored by Scottie’s psychological trauma.” I assert that Hitchock’s use of animation afforded him the opportunity to “present realism as it was impinged by Scottie’s illness,” or in other words, that Hitchock visualizes the psychologically real with animation, rather than the visually mimetic (which would be the case were this sequence entirely shot as live-action). I conclude the video essay with a visual of the four major media discussed in the project while I recap the significant points I arrived at when discussing each.
Regarding my work as a scholar, I see this project as a crucial step for me, as I begin to explore producing visual media, rather than solely analyzing it in traditional textual formats and publications. I would like to continue producing visual media and educational material moving forward as a means of meeting the evolving demands of literacy in the age of new media. Regarding my ambitions for this project, I meet the goal I set out to accomplish in this video essay of taking audience members on a guided tour through the visual rhetoric of four major media, especially in relation to their depiction of the real.

Works Cited
Bazin, André. “The Myth of Total Cinema.” What is Cinema? University of California Press, pp. 23-27, 1968. Print.
Doane, Mary Ann. “Indexicality: Trace and Sign: Introduction.” differences, vol. 18, no. 1, 1 May 2007, pp. 1–6., doi: 10.1215/10407391-2006-020
Tarantino, Quentin, director. Kill Bill: Volume 1. Miramax, 2003.

Visual Media and Rhetorical Potential

This video first digitally translates photographed media to illustrative media and muses on the rhetoric both. I position illustrative animation as a hybrid medium along Bazin’s visual ontological spectrum.

from Visual Media and Rhetorical Potential (2019)
Creator: Zack Shaw
Posted by Zack Shaw