Why talk about a rhetoric of images? The most obvious answer is that we
live in an image-saturated society and a relevant rhetoric must pay
attention to images, that W. J. T. Mitchell is right when he suggests
that the rhetorical turn is being displaced by the pictorial turn. Beyond
the obvious, the answers are multiple and layered. I want to suggest some
answers by looking at some old pictures: Carleton Watkins' landscape
photographs of Yosemite and William Henry Jackson's landscape photographs
and Thomas Moran's water colors and paintings of Yellowstone.
At a basic level, if rhetoric is, at the very least, about persuasion in
conventional politics, images merit a look and have for centuries. The
cases of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran are instructive. The fundamental role
of Watkins' landscape photography in the creation of Yosemite as the
world's first wilderness area "for the benefit of the people, for their
resort and recreation, to hold them inalienable for all time" (the bill
quoted in Schama, 1995: 191) is evident in the story that California
Senator John Conness, when introducing the bill to preserve Yosemite to
Congress in March of 1864, also passed Watkins' photographs around the
halls of Congress (Palmquist, 1983, pp. 19-20; Fels, 1983, p. 34). The
legislation passed and was signed into law on June 30, 1864 thereby deeding
Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California.
Watkins' role in preserving Yosemite extended well beyond the Congressional
floor. Thousands of people on the East Coast saw Watkins' photos, either
in art galleries or as reprints in their homes. His images garnered such
popular support that it led Edw...
... middle of paper ...
...r an elaborate construction
of the "original" context would sufficiently explain the rhetorical force
of these images. Exceeding any discernible intentions, the landscape art
of Watkins, Jackson, and Moran become founding documents of the
environmental movement, creating a pristine wilderness that becomes
environmentalism's sublime object.
Fels, Thomas (1983) Carleton Watkins: Photographer. Williamstown, MA:
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Jackson, W. H. (1940) Time
Exposure. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Kinsey, Joni (1992) Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West.
Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Palmquist, Peter (1983) Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the
American west. Albuquerque: University Of New Mexico Press.
Schama, S. (1995) Landscape and Memory. New York: A.A. Knopf.
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