Everyone has heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but how does one image actually impact a person, their feelings, and their actions? How can one single picture elicit so many different thoughts? By just targeting one of the five senses, a picture can spark an entire array of emotions, which can in-turn create a train of thought, and then those thoughts can inspire a set of actions. A simple picture can make the connection between being familiar with a concept to actually knowing and understanding that same concept. Visual learners comprise of over half of the world’s population (according to the Social Science Research Network, at least), so it would make sense that images are employed to successfully present different ideas, theories, and stories that might be easily confused or misunderstood with an explanation consisting solely of text. Another aspect of utilizing images into a rhetorical text includes something slightly less innocent; pictures can be manipulated and distorted into anything the author wishes it to be, and this also is a reason that rhetorical writers rely on photographs.
Let’s take Eros Hoagland’s “Life in the Googleplex” for example. Hoagland uses a photo essay to describe what it is like to work at Google. Many people, or maybe just myself, think of Google as a high and mighty place where all information is stored, and the world is ruled there by a collection of some of the smartest people in the world. That doesn’t exactly sound like a playground to me. Google has a such a prominent connotation of intelligence that it is hard to relate it to fun. This problem is exactly what Eros Hoagland addresses in his photo essay. The collection of pictures along with quirky comments and captions shows how laid-back and fun Google can actually be. He doesn’t rely just on words for his rhetoric; he utilizes pictures, so that everyone can understand and see what it is actually like working for Google. Hoagland’s pictures explain more to the public in just one glance than he ever could in words.
On the other hand, though everyone would love to believe Hoagland’s description in “Life in the Googleplex,” it is very possible that the pictures he uses in his photo essay do not actually represent what reality is. Eros Hoagland’s purpose behind his piece is to convince his audience that Google is a fun, innovative, and happy place to be. He uses a collection of pictures to prove this, as described in the previous paragraph. Though these pictures are supposedly candid, there is a chance that Hoagland stages these pictures to really emphasize what he wants the audience to see. Whether choosing not to photograph some scenes or choosing a certain perspective that looks “happier,” photo essays are easily manipulated by their authors. Though somewhat immoral, this emphasizes how the photos are very valuable tools to have for rhetorical writer.
In photo essays, rhetoric thrives. A strategically placed photo can derive ethos, logos, and pathos from almost anyone. Whether using it for something argumentative, informative, or strictly for fun, an image can immediately draw its audience in. Pictures share a universal language, even if the actual captions are not in someone’s native tongue. This is why Eros Hoagland, along with countless others, choose to provide their information (whether accurate or not) through images. They are easy to understand and a potent tool for whatever the author’s purpose. An involuntary chain reaction (described in the first paragraph, third sentence) starts whenever an image is processed and knowing how to harness this power creates rhetoric so powerful that it is almost impossible to resist. After all, seeing is believing, right?