This 400-page volume on visual rhetoric, arguably an anachronism considering the digital nature and spare size of many treatments of the subject, engages the reader on many levels: pedagogically, theoretically, visually, and rhetorically. On the cover, the iconic image of the "Migrant Mother" is reproduced six times, gradually becoming less like the original image and more stylized toward the bottom, representing its appropriation into our collective identity and citizenship. The cover thus displays a rhetoric that replicates the book's contents. For rhetoric scholars interested in the intersection of visual rhetoric, social movements, the public sphere, and power structures, this book will find a happy place on the desk, not the shelf. Infused with (but not limited to) cultural studies methodology and rhetorical analysis, the authors push against public sphere theory and ideological critique to insert an argument into the gap made by the devaluation of visual images and of rhetoric in general.
Chapter 1, "Introduction," provides an overview of the book's concept and execution. Hariman and Lucaites provide an operational definition of the book's key concept: the photographic icon. They offer a number of definitions: icons as "objects of veneration and other emotional responses," "objects of contemplation bearing the aura of history, or humanity, or possibility," and "visual commonplaces" (Hariman and Lucaites, pp. 1-2). The crux of the definition lies in the tension between democracy and liberalism, because "[p]hotojournalism is a characteristically democratic art, and the iconic photo is its signature work" (p. 3). Asking the rhetorical question, "And what do [iconic photos] have to do with politics anyway?" Hariman and Lucaites go on to point out that since photographs are merely representations, they seem to "justify the political scientist's disregard for the epiphenomena of language, symbolism, and other ornaments of material power" (p. 3). Nevertheless, even though political science has "kept its distance from visual representation," (p. 3) rhetoric has not avoided it. The authors apply rhetorical theory to the study of these icons because "the historical study of rhetoric" is "both a practical art and a theory of public address" (p. 4).
Noting that "[i]n contemporary study [of rhetoric], the emphasis has shifted from the individual's pursuit of advantage to the collective construction of identity, community, and power" (p. 4), Hariman and Lucaites perceive a tension between democracy and liberalism. As I establish in more detail below, the authors advance the argument that the succession of appropriations of these images within public debate and popular culture indicates a shift in the twentieth century from "more democratic to more liberal norms of political identity" (p. 13). I pair these quotes to suggest that, while the authors do not actually articulate a tension here, their argument for using rhetorical theory subverts the trend within the culture itself. In other words, they state that the history of rhetorical scholarship has moved from the individual to the collective (liberal to more democratic), while the shift within public culture has moved from the more collective to the more individual. Although this friction is not overtly articulated within the text, the quality of the analyses is not jeopardized, as will be clear from a look at the methods and conclusions contained in the book. The methodology is outlined in Chapter 2, in which the authors establish five "vectors of influence" that they use to analyze the nine photographs selected for the book. (The section of this review called "Purpose" discusses these under "Form and Content.") Hariman and Lucaites explain that their approach "can be highlighted by contrast with the iconoclasm characterizing the dominant theoretical frameworks for understanding modern media: public sphere theory and ideology critique" (p. 20). By undercutting the iconoclasm that has marred a full scholarly emergence into visual literacy, No Caption Needed offers a groundbreaking way to view the icons of public culture that both inform and reflect our notions of citizenship.