Iconographic Tracking

Laurie Gries in her article “Iconographic Tracking” writes to encourage building upon existing methods for studying rhetorical circulation such as circulation studies to further our understanding of how an image develops its rhetoric and impacts the social economy. Previous methodologies “narrow and limit the [image’s] projection” (Marback, 2008, p. 64) so she proposes, “Rather than move away from circulation, then, I suggest we embrace invention and study how images flow and transform to help account for an image’s rhetorical becomings.” (Gries, 2013, p. 336) She introduces Iconographic tracking which she developed through the personal evolution of circulation studies which is a way to attach empirical data to the movements and transformation of an image and their effect on society. This gives scholars the opportunity to see how an image gains it rhetoric and becomes an icon that influences people. Laurie uses a 5 year study of the Obama Hope image to see how it’s rhetoric began and how it developed new meanings. Using her Iconographic tracking method she was able to put together definitive bullet points highlighting events and social developments that helped form the Obama Hope rhetoric.

When I first read the article I couldn’t really help but ask myself why this kind of study is important. Why does the rhetoric behind an image or the development of the rhetoric matter. As I read further, I realized the anthropological weight rhetoric studies have and the importance of developing nuanced ways to follow these ideas that match with our progressing society. It is usually the events of history that we study in our day to day but I often think about how a lot of history is deemed unthinkably underdeveloped because we are looking at the statistics or empirical evidence without historical context. Iconographic Tracking is an interesting way to give weight to historical context as, in my experience, it is usually empirical data that is preserved and passed on to future generations. So to give social impact the power to be analyzed gives us an opportunity to preserve the more unspoken ideas that impacted thinking and culture. This technique is able to be applied to the fast circulation of icons on the internet but it also reminded me of some icons pre-internet that were not written that ended up developing other rhetorics. For instance The Greek Slave sculpted by Hiram Powers was described by Powers himself as a depiction of a Greek daughter captured by the Turks to commentate on the power of humbling yourself before God when you are in trouble, anxiety and the separation from shame. However, this sculpture boomed in American with abolition on the rise she gained the rhetoric of representing how cruel slavery was when it was boiled down to a fragile woman bound in chains and completely exposed in a society where women were to be protected and slaves were wholeheartedly disregarded. Later she became a feminist icon as she exposed the sexist constraints women were held to as only men were allowed to see the statue at first which highlighted how women were seen to belong to men. She ended up being a symbol of sexual liberation for women and a harsh reality check for slave owners at the time. While her virility wasn’t born on the internet The Greek Slave is a good example of how important rhetoric study is and has been in the past.

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