Ecce Photo: The Rhetorical Functions of Photography in Graphic Narrative

Date of Award

Fall 2021

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Monica Chiu

Second Advisor

Brigitte Bailey

Third Advisor

Mathew A. Cheney


This study addresses the rhetorical functions of photography in the medium of graphic narrative, a primarily hand drawn form. While comics criticism recognizes that the insertion of photographic images into a hand-drawn sequence affects how we make meaning and the meaning we make of the sequence, it has neither acknowledged nor investigated the pervasiveness of photographic imagery in graphic narrative nor fully engaged with the significance of the juxtaposition of the two styles of representation. By turning to other academic disciplines for theory that pertains to the multimodal medium of comics, my dissertation addresses both of these issues. First, I detail the coincidences, concurrences, and confluences of the histories of photography and comics to establish the long interplay between the two fields. Then I review the critical literature in the comics field to establish the state of the discourse and then present interdisciplinary perspectives, specifically those drawn from art history, photography theory, multimodality theory, and, most importantly, rhetoric to supplement literary criteria in approaching the multimodal medium of comics. Adapting and applying the theory I identify, define, and demonstrate five rhetorical functions served by photographs in the medium; disruption, diegesis, description, documentation, and disputation. Finally, I develop and model an analytical praxis for the identification, assessment, and evaluation of visual rhetoric in graphic narrative. Rhetorical analysis of visual imagery uncovers meaning in a multimodal text that cannot be readily accessed by a traditional literary critique.

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