Salzburg University | Salzburg, Austria
Pixel Surgery and the Doctored Image – The Argumentative Potential of Visual Compositing in Advertising
Recent work on multimodal argumentation (ROQUE 2017; BATEMAN 2018) has shown that, besides multimodal rhetorical figures (MCQUARRIE/MICK 2003; PHILLIPS/MCQUARRIE 2004; MULKEN 2006), argument construction also crucially relies on the nature of the visual image itself and its propositional and rhetorical contributions (KJELDSEN 2012). In a study on argumentation in social advertising (STÖCKL 2019), I was able to show that the second most frequently used type of image – in the sense of a generalized content and overall rhetorical technique – was a digitally manipulated, composite image fusing two or more recognizable objects/image contents into a single unified gestalt. I argued that by presenting two visual image elements or propositions, this image type provides a rhetorically useful constellation that in itself possesses some argumentative force or can effectively be exploited in a multimodal argument.
Based on a compilation of 200 commercial advertising images that have been classified as high-quality visual art (LÜRZER’s INTERNATIONAL ARCHIVE 2019), I am seeking here to explore the argumentative potentials of what in digital art (DAWBER 2005; BÜHLER/SCHLAICH/ SINNER 2017) has been called ‘compositing’ or ‘composing’. Firstly, this involves a concern with pictorial form i.e., the question of how such composite images are configured and produced, and which different rhetorical structures they offer. Secondly, the enquiry attempts to link such emerging types of digital art with their rhetorical potentials for multimodal argumentation. This shifts the focus to the types of arguments (LEHN 2011: 163–184; JANICH 2013: 131–147) the various digital form manipulations facilitate, the kinds of text-image relations (BATEMAN 2014) these require and the overall rhetorical text structures (MANN/THOMPSON 1986, 1988) needed to embed the emerging arguments.
The study is a corpus-based qualitative sketch of the digitally doctored advertising image, aiming to shed light on the relation between pictorial form and rhetorical-semantic potential for construing brand/product argumentation.
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Hartmut Stöckl is full professor of English and Applied Linguistics in the Department of English and American Studies at Salzburg University, Austria. His main research areas are in semiotics, media/text linguistics/stylistics, pragmatics and linguistic multimodality research. He is particularly interested in the linkage of language and image in modern media, typography and an aesthetic appreciation of advertising. Together with Helen Caple and Jana Pflaeging, he recently co-edited the volume Shifts towards Image-centricity in Contemporary Multimodal Practices (2020, Routledge).