Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John M. Ackerman

Second Advisor

Lisa A. Flores

Third Advisor

Laurie E. Gries

Fourth Advisor

David Boromisza-Habashi

Fifth Advisor

John-Michael Rivera


Across multiple contexts within photography’s relatively brief history as a medium of ‘light inscription,’ a ubiquitous relationship pairing photographer with subject has dominated a common understanding of the art (technê). This pairing, across time, consistently demonstrates a dominant and linear perspective, wherein the former (photographer) works to “capture” the latter (the subject), toward the production of an image--whether inscribed on print media of the traditional darkroom, or through the bright screens of our contemporary mobile devices. This dissertation examines this linear relationship, and in particular, what new potential may emerge when photography is considered apart from it. That is, how might both professional and everyday photographers consider the art (and/or craft) as a set of social relationships--rather than a linear production? As such, I conduct a rhetorical inquiry into a variety of case studies. These range from Annie Leibowitz’ photographing of high fashion models alongside real-life first responders in Vogue, to the less visible, affective, and often devastating human consequences of chasing the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, to the influence and power wielded by conventional photographic aesthetics within the coverage of a post-disaster event. My findings suggest that photography yields surprising rhetorical power when considered apart from its traditional understanding as a technology of image capture. By analyzing the aesthetics of public images and the leveraging of photographic conventions, my research highlights both the power and limitations that an ostensibly neutral technology overlooks when photography is understood as an unproblematic production which can only yield images. Rather, I argue that photography is better understood as processual in character, and relational in scope. Far from a static technology, my cases demonstrate that photography is made and remade, and brings the potential to expand its influence and power when social and public concerns become inclusive to its definition. These insights may help visual publics to move beyond normative views of photography as an endeavor initiated and terminated in the image of its maker. Rather, I contend a relational photography—what I refer to as a photographic act—catalyzes a process of connective, social invention and renewal.