Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Homework for "The Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography"

Your homework reading for Friday is "The Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography" by Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, a very famous disability studies scholar. The article is available on ANGEL under Lessons.

In this book chapter, Garland-Thompson identifies four different ways that people with disabilities are portrayed in popular photography (advertisements, newspaper images, and fashion photos, for the most part). This is an excellent example of deep critical analysis. I don't expect you to write a 20 page academic essay for my class, but this kind of thinking--taking familiar images and showing what they say about our culture--is what I would like to see in your Genre Portfolio writings.

Keep in mind what the author has to say about photography--it is not neutral and carries as much bias or prejudice as the person who took the photo. Check out this site for info on photo manipulation.


Here are some choice quotes from the introduction to the article that might help you understand the author's purpose, audience, and rhetorical situation.

"...staring creates an awkward partnership that estranges and discomforts both viewer and viewed." (57)

"As a culture, we are at once obsessed with and intensely conflicted about the disabled body." (57)

"Photographs seem to be transparent windows onto reality that ensnare truth. But like all representations, photographs organize our perceptions, shaping the objects as they depict them by using conventions of presentation that invoke cultural ideas and expectations. Photographs evoke the familiar only to make it seem strange, eliciting a response Alan Trachtenberg describes as 'astonishment mingling with recognition'." (57-58)

"By exploring some of the purposes to which popular photography's "dialectic of strange and familiar" has been put, I aim here to suggest how modern America imagines disability and disabled people." (58)

"...I analyze more than I evaluate. These visualizations of disabled people act as powerful rhetorical figures that elicit responses or persuade viewers to think or act in certain ways." (58)


And here are a couple of key terms:

ocularcentric-- focused on visuals and images (this is a really weird word)

signifier--something that carries meaning

visual rhetoric--the study of how images and visuals communicate. By "visual rhetorics of disability", I think Garland-Thompson means different patterns or methods of using images of disabled people to communicate a certain message.


Your homework for this reading is to analyze a photographic image and critically analyze it in your blog. Write at least 200 words about the photo and how it portrays its subject. Pay attention to the choices the photographer had to make, and what impression you get of the subject of the picture. Does the subject seem strange? Unfamiliar? Exotic? Sentimentalized? Something else?

Link to the photo you look at in your blog entry. If you know how to, feel free to embed the picture in your blog as well.

Some sites you might look for photos at if you are stuck:
Foto Decadent
World Famous Photos
And Google Image Search is always useful too. (However, it might be good to know the context of the photo you are using, like who took it and where was it published?)

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Homework redefined!! Less stress for all!!