Visual Rhetoric—Static Image

Analysis of a Static Image

Core Value II of the Writing Arts Department emphasizes the importance of Information Literacy, a phrase more expansive than Literacy, which we ordinarily associate with written texts, the ability to read, write, and interact with language.

Your Guide to the First-Year Writing Program devotes a large section to a full description of the components of various media (including visual media), from which this is an excerpt:

Core Value II: Close and critical reading/analysis is necessary for listening to and questioning texts, arriving at a thoughtful understanding of those texts, and joining the academic and/or public conversations represented by those texts.

Writers create texts to communicate ideas, and they make specific compositional choices in their writing to achieve their goals. These choices are in terms of language, materials/mediums (physical and/or digital), and other compositional elements, including typography, layout, design, images, sound, editing, and more. As readers, we must analyze these elements to determine the authors’ meanings, as well as the ideologies that have shaped the ideas and how they are expressed/presented through texts. Readers engage with texts not only to understand their meanings and listen to other authors but also to question them.

We’ll begin that practice today by examining the header image for our class blog, the set of photographs that morph former President Donald Trump’s official photograph with that of current President Joe Biden’s.

You’ll notice, of course, that the images get weird toward the middle, where an unholy alliance between the two men results in something nobody would willingly elect: a 50/50 Donald Biden or Joe Trump.

As an image without context, it can mean whatever the viewer chooses for it to mean.

  1. It could be used, for example, to demonstrate how similar America’s presidents are or choose to be portrayed. The somber suits and blue ties, the choice of patriotic backgrounds, the straight-ahead poses and big-toothed smiles are apparently part of how presidents choose to see themselves, or how Americans choose to see our presidents.

If you were doing a research paper and discovered this image while scouring the academic databases of scholarly articles, you would consider it a “source.” The methodology of this course, after finding sources, is to ask and answer two questions:

How effectively did the author USE this material to demonstrate a meaningful and clear claim?

How can I respectfully use this material to demonstrate
my own meaningful and clear claim?

As a class of 22 students and 1 professor, we might answer the first question 23 different ways, depending on what claim(s) we thought the author of the graphic intended to make.

Further, if we each decided to incorporate the graphic into visual/textual arguments of our own, we might produce 23 different arguments. Let’s look at two and answer the Big Questions about them.


Of the two, which seems the more reasonable interpretation? Is it clearer now which message the creator intended? Or can the image be used equally well to convey both messages? What does this tell you about the power of images? What does it say about the power of language to frame how we experience what we see?

In Class Exercise

As a Reply to this post, argue for the effectiveness of each of the static image “posters” above. Then use each poster as a source to make your own claim about America, or elections, or the presidency, or these two presidents. In other words, answer the two questions about each of the two posters.

32 Responses to Visual Rhetoric—Static Image

  1. I think that the image can be used equally well to convey both messages. I feel that images can convey an authors intent or further emphasize a point. I think art and media is just as important in publicizing opinion as words are. The fact that the same image can convey multiple meanings shows that whatever meaning you want to prove, you will still have to give a little more in order for the reader to agree/ understand your point.

  2. grizzlybear16 says:

    These pictures show Donald Trump forming into Joe Biden to show the new presidency. Although to me it resembles something a bit deeper. To me this photo highlights the man in the middle which in this case would represent a mix of a radical republican and a radical democrat. Which in term could possibly make every American happy.

  3. shepardspy says:

    The first post seems pretty effective, however, it just seems a little corny and inaccurate. The second poster is effective as it portrays a deeper meaning and really allows viewers to deeply think about it.

  4. ilovecoffee says:

    The poster leaves you with counterintuitive thoughts that. It makes you question what exactly you are looking at. The combination of these two presidents would not end in a positive result. However, the claims they made were both funny and visually appealing. The two major extremes allow for all types of people to be satisfied. They are also both very funny because politics have become so powerful in our country.

  5. bullymaguire29 says:

    – the second one feels more effective. The morph implies a passage of time or a change. The first one would be better maybe without as many of the images but kind of gets the point across. Purely looking at the second one and using the phrase “same as the old” and the similarity of the image makes it all much better.
    I see a man who loves America and shook up Washington DC and now on the right it’s now a man who confuses his left from right every single day.

  6. slowmountain says:

    The first post, showing Trump turning into Biden and saying, “Finally, a leader for all Americans” and “The change has already started”, is in support of Biden. The second post seems to be more about how they are both the same, and most presidents are.

  7. ohsosillybones says:

    Although the clarity in each of these posters is questionable, I find that the leader for all American’s poster is much more effective in making a clear and meaningful claim. Adversely, the meet the new boss poster makes a much less meaningful claim, in my opinion. There is not much to gain from the second poster whereas the first poster promotes optimism and is much more clear in establishing its “purpose”. If I were to try and make a claim from this image I would probably similarly go on the side of optimism.

  8. njdevilsred17 says:

    In the two posters, the questions were answered effectively but they had interpreted in two completely different ways. I say that both posters are effective but I really don’t think the second one was not as appealing because of the statement about the old boss. The more outspoken will become the leaders of the country.

  9. 44elk says:

    The first image gives me the vibe of “Hey everyone! Stop fighting! Look at this guy! He’s perfect, huh?!” The second image gives me the (much more pessimistic) vibe of “You see this new clown? Literally the same as the old clown. This country is a circus and the funny part is that you think you have a say in anything.” The first image also gives the impression that a solution has been found to one of America’s biggest problems, and all of the political fighting will stop now :^). Back to the second, bolder image, it also gives the impression that political America is doomed. I’d love to keep writing about this. But I also feel that after this class, I won’t feel the same way, so here’s what I think!

  10. swim1903 says:

    The static image posters are effective because it makes the reader, the voters of America, really think about their decisions about the election and who they should elect. How effectively did the author USE this material to demonstrate a meaningful and clear claim? The author used the picture of the two presidents morphing, or coming together to promote the message of democracy, or America coming together. How can I respectfully use this material to demonstrate
    my own meaningful and clear claim? I can use this material to demonstrated my own meaningful and clear claim, by using this material it shows how just a simple image can have many arguments to it. In the second image, the author uses the pictures to convey the message that every high up political figure is all the same, they just look different. He believes that no matter who you elect, America will still not change and that it is up to the people to make that change. The author used the material image to showcase that the presidents blending together shows how they are the same

  11. schoolcookiemonster says:

    I think the first poster is more effective since it has a clear statement that is easy to understand from one look. The blue and red border of the poster also represents the American colors which make it follow the political statement it makes. The brown border in the second poster does not make the merging of the two presidents’ faces stand out as much as the first poster. Overall I think poster one was a more effective and engaging poster to read since the pictures seemed to aimlessly match the text. The first poster represents the unity of the two political parties Democratic and Republic and how even though these parties might seem so far from similar in reality they overlap and have ideas that may be different but at the end of the day, we are all living in the same country that wants comfort and peace. The second poster represents the change from one president to another meaning that perspectives of a successful nation may change but our experctions for appearance to look professional have not changed one bit. Both presidents are wearing a blue tye, are sitting in front of the American flag, and have similar facial structures.

  12. In the first static image, it is showing us how the president is finally changing from Trump to Biden. I think this static image is not very effective because we don’t need to see the image for us to know that the president is changing; the image does the opposite actually because it shows that trump is not that different from Biden which is not what the message is saying at all. This image shows how much people didn’t like Trump, and I don’t think its wise to have a president that so many people dislike regardless if they are good at their job or not because it puts the country at ends with each other. In the second static image, it shows that no matter who we are voting for, we are effectively voting for the same thing because neither is going to spark too much change and voting is just to make us think we have power. I think this is really effective because it shows us how similar trump and biden are, and the difference between them is not as big as the country might think. I think the voting system is just a way for us thinking we have power because even if we vote, most of the time it won’t really make that much of a difference.

  13. gymrat230 says:

    The image can convey both arguments well. It all depends on how the author uses the image to get their own opinion across. The picture itself doesn’t mean much, but two different but equally valid ideas are present once the context is provided.
    My claim: No matter who we vote for, one thing never changes; the man in power is always an old white guy.

  14. alwaystired247 says:

    The header image of Trump morphing into Biden represents many things. One could be the similarities between each president and how every one of them has the same core values and portrays themselves alike. It could also show the shift from Trump to Biden, and how a newly elected president will eventually turn the country into their own. I think that the comparison between the presidents is what the poster best represents. The parties are more similar than people know. In reality, not much changes until we fight for change. More times than not, electing a president in hopes of a change, but doing nothing else to make that change will not fix anything.

  15. Both pictures show Trump merging into Biden. I’m really a fan of the captions thought. I don’t really find them all that funny. I like the second caption better though. It made me smile a little bit.

  16. fatboy489zt says:

    For the first static image, I feel as if it is using a more sarcastic approach when it is telling America that “change has already started” when it is a picture of the presidents looking almost identical. Overall, I don’t think that it is too effective. It is the opposite for the second image, as it is more effective than the first. It is actually telling the readers that both presidents seem the exact same when just looking at them. I believe that what this says about America is that nothing really changes and what seems like our choice is really just our choice on two faces of the same coin.

  17. xephos1 says:

    I think both images are effective at conveying that no matter what President you vote for both of them are just going to be crooked through and through.

  18. Both of the posters convey the message the creator is trying to get across. While the images themselves are the same, the words surrounding them are what tells the reader the point the author is making. To me, these posters highlight the fact that the man in the middle is a mix between a Democratic and Republican president, which may be the type of person America needs as its leader.

  19. shxrkbait says:

    The second poster seems to be the more reasonable interpretation. I say this because the images are being morphed together to form an image of Donald Trump and Joe Biden mixed therefore the phrase “meet the new boss.Same as the old boss” is a very accurate interpretation of the image because they look so much alike. The first static image is not effective because it states that america is changing already but Trump and Biden look very similar especially when morphed together.

  20. hollyp715 says:

    In these static images, the presidents are all being portrayed as simple, yet patriotic. Their portraits are able to flow into one another because of the similarities (white shirt, blue ties, black jacket, patriotic backgrounds). This flow from a past president to a current shows that we choose very similar-looking leaders. The image demonstrates the claim effectively. A similar visual rhetoric could assist me in providing a visual for my claim, making it more clear for the audience.

  21. I feel as though the artist of this image did not really have any meaning behind this image, but this image can be seen as the changing of the Presidents. Trump was the president previous to Biden and was put on the left of the images. From left to right is usually seen as beginning to end/now. Another way to see this photo would be the fact that all Presidents are just humans like us with different faces, names, and values.

  22. giantsfan224 says:

    I would say the second poster is definitely more effective than the first. Although the first one is clear, the second one requires a little more thinking. The first poster seems to show a little more support for Biden, as it says that he is a better leader. The second one makes it seem that they are both the same, with no change happening at all.

  23. AnonymousStudent says:

    I think the effectiveness of the first comic is not as effective. I think the image isn’t meant to be used as a way to unify Americans, since both parties still disagree very much with each other. On the other hand, the second poster creates the claim that it doesn’t matter who we vote for, since they are all the same. I think the rhetoric of this poster is much stronger. With this in mind, I think the intent of the author was to convince readers that while they remain on opposite parties, that ultimately they are the same as one another. While it’s perceived as two sides of the same coin, the sides have the same values.

  24. beforeverge says:

    I think the second image image is more effective for me, but it really is up to opinion. Even without the words, I see it as one president changing to the next. I then see how similar they really look to each other, two old white men. I can understand the text in the second picture better than the first. I’ve never liked the inspirational political messages much, so the second feels more honest and accurate. Every president says they’re going to make incredible improvements for the US, but not all do.

  25. First and foremost I find the first image very ineffective because the subject of the picture isn’t related to the subject they are addressing in the picture. In the words, it says the people while the image shows the leader. I don’t see how this can be a leader for me if it doesn’t show me a representation of myself.
    I find the other picture more effective but not in proving the point they probably intended because demonstrating how much Biden and Trump’s look-alike proves that they are very similar in physical aspects. However, I don’t feel they intended for me to see that they only looked alike rather they wanted me to see that they might rule the same as the president as well which I did not get. These two are not the same in every way but the same in the one way the photo provides.

    I would use the photo to claim that the American people sure are attracted to the physique that exists in Biden and Trump. I wouldn’t go beyond the physical aspects of the two presidents because I don’t feel I get anything besides looks. We could also say that maybe there are so many differences in American presidents despite them looking the same don’t let your eyes deceive you. That’s what I would say ” Don’t let your eyes deceive you.” They look the same but they are politically different.

  26. gobirds17 says:

    I believe the second image conveys a stronger message. I believe the first one has too much of a positive outlook which most Americans would not agree with. The second one has a more pessimistic view which I think align better with the beliefs of the nation. To a certain extent most presidents do act the same and they absolutely try to portray similar imagery.

  27. mochaatrain says:

    The first poster is pretty effective when looking at it with no prior knowledge of the actions of the two presidents because the main word that is established is the change that has already started. Giving the impression that Trump’s presidency has gradually turned towards a Biden presidency and has become a change for the better. I find the second poster to be more effective showing how close the presidents’ faces are giving the idea of similarity between the two. My line of reasoning is that Trump turns into Biden. The left-to-right transition makes it seem as though Biden originated from the last president. Another interpretation could be that it takes a while before a president distinguishes his actions from past presidents’ efforts in office. That it takes time for Biden to deal with what Trump left behind and make it his own.

  28. powerranger says:

    I think both posters are merging from Trump to Biden. But I found second one more interesting. Both posters has the mixture of Trump of Biden in the middle as it presents the Republic of America. No matter who we vote for, there will always be one of them.

  29. oni says:

    I find the second picture to be more clear and more effective. The picture relates heavily to the message, having Trump morph into Biden directly ties into the idea that they are the same. The first image is definitely more positive, with the blue and the red colors emphasizing this. However, the image doesn’t really correlate with its message, since it’s all about change and having the two presidents morph into each other makes them seem the same, not different. The second image is way more cynical, with the brown matching this idea.

  30. In the two posters provided above, I believe that the second poster is more effective. One line that caught my attention was, ” Keep thinking you have a choice America.” It’s concerning that our president doesn’t exactly make the choices for Americans he just has the final say that was provided by either party. Throughout history, presidents basically do the same thing, but it may look like a different outcome depending on what the economy is doing or what is going on within the world. They get blamed for stuff that may or many not be an issue they caused from signing in some type of document/ article proposed.

  31. Caravan says:

    I believe the second poster is more effective and an interpretation which makes more sense, whereas for me personally the former is almost like a non sequitur. The second poster seems more likely to match the intentions of the original image’s creator, and said original image certainly alludes to the same sentiment even if it doesn’t state it outright. While the second poster makes a point that’s a little trite, that’s precisely because it’s a feeling so many people share with regards to American politics. Stagnation, broken promises, politicians courting business interests at the expense of their constituents–to the average voter in the US, these are just as much facts of life as the sun rising in the morning.

  32. I think the second poster is more effective in getting its message across. The first poster wants you to believe there is hope in the future because of some great change, but the image almost works against it. The two images of Trump and Biden almost look too similar for it to work. That’s why the second image, trying to communicate that nothing has changed, is not just clearer but more convincing.

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