Visual rhetoric simply describes the process of communicating using images just as words are used to create paragraphs, which relay a message. Visual rhetoric is a relatively new phenomenon in photography. It differs from established disciplines such as graphic and visual design because it gives emphasis to both aesthetic and cultural meanings perceived through sensory means (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 12). The subject of visual rhetoric has been covered in various disciplines such as cultural studies, communication, linguistics, art history, and business. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject makes it difficult to differentiate the relationship between all its components. Each discipline highlights a particular aspect of the subject. Common examples of artifacts that are subjected to visual rhetorical analyses are architecture, advertisements, charts, diagrams, movies, newspapers, web pages, and photographs.
Visual rhetoric has no clear history. It is possible to argue that the practice has been in existence as long as images have existed. The term is used in academic lingua to specify the area of study that focuses on rhetorical traits of visual media and presentations. Visual rhetoric is capable of reflecting existing cultural norms and shaping it according to prevailing trends. Furthermore, visual rhetoric requires the observer to learn how to respond to visual representation of images together with the process of manipulating and constructing cultural images. Visual rhetoric is also associated with semiotics, which studies the significance of symbolism and signs. In this regard, visual rhetoric covers the signs and symbols that may be hidden in visual mediums (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 14). The study of visual rhetoric consists of, but is not limited to, applying vision to identify symbolisms in historical art and visual imagery.
In the early 1820s when Louie Daguerre and Nicephoe Niepce conducted photographic experiments, photography was simply a way of freezing real life in a frame (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 19). Technological changes and the invention of digital camera and computer software for graphic design have revolutionized photography and the appreciation of photographs. The digital age has given photographers the opportunity to manipulate and adjust images far and beyond the original form (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 22). In the same way, the medium of presenting the images has also changed. A can be printed on paper or shared electronically via electronic mail or even of various social interaction platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 23). All these technological developments have advanced certain aspects of photography and made others ambiguous or redundant.
A standard photograph is composed of the foreground, background, light values, gaze, details, and the framing (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 42). Photographic analysis helps the viewer to distinguish between facts and fiction. Analysis helps the observer to develop a lager concept of the picture and to form implicit wholes from a combination of explicit parts (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 47). The rhetoric triangle can be used to make a structured and systematic analysis of an image. The triangle examines the subject or content of an image. It then looks at the audience and finally, the perspective of the photographer (Olson, Finnegan & Hope 51). Both professional and casual observers to appreciate images and create a deeper understanding of the art form can apply this three-phased analysis.