Sunday, January 26, 2014

Practicing Analysis of Visual Rhetoric: Ramiro Gomez's "Happy Hills"

This week we will read communication scholar Sonja Foss' "Theory of Visual Rhetoric." In this chapter, Foss argues that the term "visual rhetoric" can describe both a communicative artifact and an approach to analyzing an artifact. To jump-start this week's blog discussion, I will present an example of visual rhetoric and ask that you apply what we have learned about visual rhetorical strategies (including classical rhetorical appeals and Gerrard and Durkin's definitions of composition, shape/size, line, and color) to analyze this example.

The Artifact
Artist Ramiro Gomez’s series “Happy Hills” is a powerful example of visual rhetoric. This series includes acrylic paintings of domestic workers and day laborers applied to advertisements that represent luxury homes.

Figure 1: Portrait of an Affluent Family by Ramiro Gomez. Retrieved from: http://ramirogomezjr.blogspot.com/


Figure 2: Lightness and Heaviness by Ramiro Gomez. Retrieved from Policy Mic.

According to Sonja Foss' definition, Gomez’s adaptations of luxury magazine ads are examples of visual rhetoric because each piece

1) is symbolic (i.e., he uses acrylic paint and magazine images to represent people and ideas),

2) involves human intervention (i.e., Gomez is a human artist who made these pieces), and

3) is presented to an audience via the media, gallery exhibitions and Gomez’s blog (Foss 144). I first encountered Gomez’s work when a friend shared Kinsey Lane Sullivan's interview with him on Policy Mic.

The Prompt 
Gomez uses visual elements (color, composition, shape & size, line, light, texture) and other rhetorical strategies to achieve a specific function. I ask that you look closely at Figures 1 and 2 from Gomez’s series. Then, choose 1 of those pieces to write about as you respond to these prompts.  

  1. In his Policy Mic interview, Gomez explains his purpose: “I re-appropriate the advertisements with an intention to interrupt the underlying sales pitch. In the case of these luxury magazines, they consciously present an ideal environment unconsciously devoid of the people tasked with maintaining those environments” (qtd. in Sullivan). Gomez wants to make visible the often invisible people who make/keep those homes so pristine. While this is the artist’s stated intention, what is the actual “function” of the piece? What is the “action the image communicates” to viewers? What does it encourage viewers to do?
  2. Identify at least 1-2 visual rhetorical strategies you see employed in this piece. Be sure to use terms from the reading and class discussions this week.

20 comments:

  1. Looking at these pieces, "Lightness and Heaviness" in particular, the function is the striking realization that these "invisible people" most often go unnoticed and unappreciated. These luxury magazines offer images of high-end estates and the wealthy, happy people that inhabit them. What they do not include are the people that keep these places looking pristine. It encourages viewers to think about everything that comes with a stark white, luxurious bathroom, to think about the people that are not represented in the ads, but are much more important in regards to the reality of it.
    Gomez incorporates the help with painted images, which offers a stark contrast to the glossy magazine pages they are done on. This brings the attention to those "invisible people," allowing them to be noticed and, hopefully, appreciated. Line and positioning highlights the added figure. By placing the woman, who is in a kneeling position, in the bottom right-hand corner of the ad, it is the first thing the eye goes to. The positioning is also important in that she is literally below the presumably wealthy woman who was photographed in the ad. In that, this woman is looking down on the help, who is working meticulously to keep up the luxurious, high-end image of a bathroom that she herself could never afford. Gomez' use of visual rhetorical strategies sheds light on the "invisible people" and brings light to the reality of these luxury magazine ads.

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  2. Prompt #2:
    Ramiro Gomez's "Lightness and Heaviness" employs visual elements and rhetorical strategies to call attention to the workers tasked with maintaining luxury homes. His artistic additions to the "PuraVida" bathroom advertisement illustrate the tireless efforts of workers that often go unnoticed by the upper class. Gomez conveys this message firstly through the painting's composition. The photo contains two women: one in the background and one in the foreground. The woman in the background of the photo is noticeable as a tall, elegant figure. By standing on the balls of her feet, she is portrayed as taller and dominant over the woman kneeling below her. From this height difference and placement, the audience can start to identify and distinguish class differences. The woman in the foreground is lower to the floor, working on her hands and knees. This position implies a lower, inferior social class to the woman in the background. Additionally, the woman in the background has her back turned to the foreground woman scrubbing the floor tiles. She cannot see the worker behind her, as she only faces the brightness coming from the window. This placement emphasizes Gomez's point that workers often go unnoticed by the upper class.
    Gomez artwork subsequently illustrates class differences. Through the use of opposing colors, he is able to distinguish between the privileged and working classes. In the painting, the background is light, white, airy, and devoid of darkness. The woman in the background is also wearing all white, implying a certain serenity and carelessness. Conversely, the woman in the foreground of the photo is outlined in dark colors. She is wearing black shirt, dark blue pants, and holding dark-colored cleaning supplies. This juxtaposition of colors further shows the social divide between the two women in the photo. The audience's eyes are immediately drawn to the dark colors in the foreground of the artwork, as the conflicting color scheme is readily perceptible. The distinctions and differences between the two women ultimately emphasize Gomez's goal of bringing attention to workers.

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  3. White is a powerful color in figure 1 and figure 2 isn't it? The main models (the people we associate with living in those spaces) are dressed in white clothing and each image is very "light" with white tones. According to the website reading on color theory, "The Psychological Properties of Colour," white has positive and negative connotations. While it can signify "clarity" and "purity" it can also signify "coldness," "barriers," and "elitism." These negative associations seem to perfectly support your reading of the artifacts Erika.
    The workers are depicted in darker clothing. Black, "totally absorbs" energy according to that same color theory article. So, if Gomez intends for the workers to interrupt the ad's rhetorical function, dressing the workers in energy-absorbing colors is a smart choice.

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  4. Prompt #2:
    Ramiro Gomez's "Lightness and Heaviness" employs visual elements and rhetorical strategies to call attention to the workers tasked with maintaining luxury homes. His artistic additions to the "PuraVida" bathroom advertisement illustrate the tireless efforts of workers that often go unnoticed by the upper class. Gomez conveys this message firstly through the painting's composition. The photo contains two women: one in the background and one in the foreground. The woman in the background of the photo is noticeable as a tall, elegant figure. By standing on the balls of her feet, she is portrayed as taller and dominant over the woman kneeling below her. From this height difference and placement, the audience can start to identify and distinguish class differences. The woman in the foreground is lower to the floor, working on her hands and knees. This position implies a lower, inferior social class to the woman in the background. Additionally, the woman in the background has her back turned to the foreground woman scrubbing the floor tiles. She cannot see the worker behind her, as she only faces the brightness coming from the window. This placement emphasizes Gomez's point that workers often go unnoticed by the upper class.
    Gomez artwork subsequently illustrates class differences. Through the use of opposing colors, he is able to distinguish between the privileged and working classes. In the painting, the background is light, white, airy, and devoid of darkness. The woman in the background is also wearing all white, implying a certain serenity and carelessness. Conversely, the woman in the foreground of the photo is outlined in dark colors. She is wearing black shirt, dark blue pants, and holding dark-colored cleaning supplies. This juxtaposition of colors further shows the social divide between the two women in the photo. The audience's eyes are immediately drawn to the dark colors in the foreground of the artwork, as the conflicting color scheme is readily perceptible. The distinctions and differences between the two women ultimately emphasize Gomez's goal of bringing attention to workers.



    (Hi! Sorry for the double post! The first time it went through as a guest user)

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  5. Prompt #2
    In "Lightness and Heaviness" Gomez contrasts the white bathroom with the dark colors of the working woman. The white of the bathroom and of the women at the windows clothes could just indicate cleanliness but also unfriendliness and elitism. The working woman is in the forefront of the picture and our eyes are drawn instantly to her. Her crouching on the floor indicates, besides cleaning, a sort of bowing down as if she were in the presence of a queen. Although you cannot see either woman's face, the affluent woman appears relaxed while the working woman seems weary and defeated. This portrait encourages viewers to respect those who do menial jobs. Just because those jobs don't require much skill, it is still bettering society in some way, or in the portrait their very home is being cleaned. As a society we forget that real people are cleaning buildings and watering the lawn and preparing our food. They make everyone's lives easier and without anyone doing these jobs it would probably be disastrous.

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  6. Eric van den TerrellJanuary 28, 2014 at 11:45 PM

    I believe the function of "Portrait of an Affluent Family" is to elicit a compulsive feeling of guilt in those who live or strive for the "ideal" he presents. He brings recognition to the invisible by showing how they blend into the surroundings while maintaining and stabilizing the world in which this "affluent family" lives. The family is framed at the center but by placing the workers, standing perfectly erect, on either side they become subtle pillars of strength much like the oak trees we discussed in class or the trees in the background. The tree behind the man cleaning the pool is practically an extension of the sieve he is using. Gomez simultaneously uses color and texture to contrast the workers from the family. Both of the workers are depicted with blues and grays very similar to the pool they are blending into, while the parents are wearing identical nondescript dark pants and white shirts that fittingly turn them into extensions of the lawn furniture they might as well be. The texture of the acrylic paint also gives a hazy quality to the facial features of the workers highlighting a lack of recognition when compared to the sharper airbrushed look of the couple. Although his literal intention may have been to make these people visible, in doing so he is asking much deeper questions about human indifference, lack of compassion, and what we deem valuable and important as a society.

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  7. In these examples of Gomez's art, he is juxtaposing fantasy images of wealth and luxury with that of someone who is humbled, hardworking, and probably poor. The original advertisements would be an example of "Lifestyle Marketing" which usually sells a fantasy of a specific lifestyle to those who see themselves as having that lifestyle. But through the addition of painted workers scrubbing floors, cleaning pools or even taking the intimate and personal position of child raising, the viewer is forced to come to grips with what the fantasy is built on.


    Take note of how the bathroom in the 2nd ad is white (as well as the young model in the window also wearing white) but the worker is wearing dark clothing and stands out in the photo. The worker is also put in the foreground whereas in the original ad, the girl in the back would command most of your attention. In the first advertisement the pool and child that belong to the wealthy are being tended to by workers. In both examples (now co-opted into Gomez's art), what would have been ads selling an idea, lifestyle, and the products associated with it, instead it became transformed into a meaningful work meant to make you socially conscious or aware of the plight of the lower classes. This could be seen as a form of culture jamming.

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  8. FIGURE 1 (Happy Hills): The actual "function" of the piece is to make people aware of the actual labor that goes into keeping their environment pristine. The emotion that Gomez is attempting to evoke from the audience is one of guilt and also compassion. Since there is still abundant racism in the United States and much stereotyping of minorities as physical laborers (including lawn care techs, landscapers, etc), Gomez is pointing to the fact that these workers take these jobs and do them well and should not be criticized as they currently are. This image also functions as a way to point out (to the original audience that the non-altered image would be in) that it would not be possible to have as pristine of a pool and backyard without these workers, especially since they are performing a job that the home owner normally would not dare to. This image may encourage viewers to appreciate the hard work that many minorities perform in this country, especially at the lower rate of pay that many are given (sometimes for issues of legality and lack of citizenship), and it could also encourage people to perform these tasks themselves rather than paying someone to do it for them; this may be counter intuitive as it would be taking jobs away from people who really could use them.

    One of the rhetorical strategies used in FIGURE 1 is color. Since green represents freshness, there is very health grass and hedges seen in the image. Green can also represent serenity and without Gomez's acrylic painting on the image, it would appear to be a serene area devoid of any human interaction. Dark green represents wealth and the fact that someone can afford gardeners, a pool cleaner, and laborers to take care of their yard & pool indicates that they are affluent. The color blue also has a prominent effect on the image as blue is associated with being dependable and fiscally responsible and secure. The workers are dependable to get the job done and the homeowner is fiscally responsible & secure enough to have the income to hire workers.

    The second rhetorical strategy used is the insertion of human beings into the image and the way in which their eyes are looking. Every person, except the mother holding the baby, is looking directly at you, the audience. The father & wife and their two daughters seem to represent the home owners' and their family. The painted on mother on the far left and what seems to be her husband on the far right are the family of the man working. Since the mother holding the baby is looking directly across at her husband, it can represent the financial need of him to work as a gardener and pool keeper to pay to support his wife and newborn child. This image takes a jab at how some people slave over physical labor while others are affluent enough to never get their hands dirty.

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  9. Great analysis of the subjects' gazes Justin! It seems like you are doing a close reading of the "composition," or arrangement of the image. I appreciate the way you support your reading of the artifact by pointing us to specific areas of the image.

    Do you all think pathetic appeals to "guilt" and "compassion" are often strategies used by artists/writers who are trying to get an audience to come to critical consciousness (or awareness) about a social issue?

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  10. Your analysis of the visual texture of the artifact makes me wonder what it is like to see this firsthand. I imagine the glossy page of the magazine contrasting with the tougher feel of the acrylic paint. This develops a stark contrast and, perhaps, brings attention to the stark class lines that still exist?? Thoughts?

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  11. From a viral marketing viewpoint, the appeals to "guilt" and "compassion" are often used and used well, especially when they are displayed on any website/page/forum/social media location where users (anonymous or not) can comment. Most of the time, especially if the image does not fit the "political correctness" of a person's morals/views, then it becomes a charged image that sparks much debate.

    The word critical can be excluded if the image is not presented properly, with properly meaning to the right crowd. For example, posting a picture up of an American citizen suffering in their house that was hit by a wrecking ball (for drastic example) would not strike the heart chords of someone living in a third world country whom has no home or developed living areas.

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  12. I think you and Eric are on to something here with the ways in which Gomez uses visual features to establish a contrast between "high" and "low" elements in the frame.

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  13. Interesting. So does your interpretation support or conflict with Eric and Justin's points about the image eliciting "guilt" or "compassion" from viewers? Is hiring help a compassionate response to an image like this?

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  14. No problem about the double post. I am still figuring out disquis myself. Your analysis is really engaging Brittany, as you use terms and concepts from the class to show that Gomez's primary strategy is developing a contrast between the model and the worker.


    What do you (or others) think a viewer would "do" after seeing this altered advertisement? How would domestic workers respond? How would upper-class consumers respond? How would art enthusiasts respond?

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  15. To add onto your argument about how this portrait encourages the viewer to respect those with menial jobs, you could see how line plays into it. If you start from the working woman first kneeling on the ground, and then my eye goes right to the woman stretching. It's like you can see that this working woman works for the other. Then you can follow the lines the working woman's arms make as they point towards the floor. It seems like it represents the fact that she is lower than the other women. The women with authority is standing straight up and her elbows are pointing up and out, creating lines that go to either side and that could be followed up past her. She has all the power and room to go everywhere she pleases, along with being able to reach higher than the working woman whose arms are pointed to the floor. This could signify that she can't progress there, that there is no room for her to grow or move on. The other woman has all the power being able to move up with her life and having all the advantages while the working woman would be stuck in the same job.

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  16. I'd like to

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  17. I agree with Justin, using guilt and compassion are there to grab the audience's attention. Images as like "Happy Hills" are carefully presented to provoke thoughts and attention from the reader, possibly to look at the situation, and learn from what the image is telling you. A working class family stereotypically assumed to work on another family's backyard gazing at the reader. This could mean many things, but I believe Justin makes a good point analyzing this as a way to encourage people to face this reality and inequality and evoke different thoughts and emotions to change the social issue.

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  18. Hi Professor Vinson,
    Do you think that, if domestic workers were to see Gomez's altered advertisement, they would feel a sense of comfort knowing that someone was acknowledging their situation? I think workers would respond positively to the artwork, as they would know that their hard labor does not go entirely unnoticed.
    As for upper-class consumers, I'm not entirely sure how they would react. Perhaps they would dispute Gomez's message, arguing that they always respect and acknowledge their employees. Conversely, the upper-class could recognize their faults and learn from the advertisement. Gomez's work could then serve as a reminder for the privileged class to always thank and communicate with their workers.
    -Brittany

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  19. Hi Stephanie,
    I agree! I really liked your point about the advertisement's tagline. The placement of "A new sense of lightness in the bathroom" does seem very ironic. The use of "lightness" next to a dark figure is a juxtaposition that unquestionably brings attention to social and racial contrasts.
    -Brittany

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  20. Great questions, Brittany. I do think Gomez's representations could make domestic workers feel a sense of comfort, or perhaps even a sense of community. Many people talk about the importance of seeing yourself (or someone like you) represented in the mainstream. Perhaps domestic workers would appreciate the moment of recognition for the work they do to contribute to those spaces and the contradictions between the amount of money those spaces cost and the amount they get paid.
    I, too, wonder about the upper-class response. First, I wonder if they have access to Gomez's art (he also does a really cool artistic intervention with cardboard cut-outs that prompt more people to see his artistic messages). Second, I wonder whether they would be sympathetic (and even then, what would happen next?) or uncomfortable.

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