Industrial ekphrasis: The dialectic of word and image in mass cultural production

Paul Frosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Recent work in cultural theory has stressed the 'intractability' of the visual image: its resistance to verbal description and to the totalizing aspirations of a linguistically 'biased' semiotics. This article tackles this 'intractability' by side-stepping the theoretical debate. Instead, it pursues the thought that the image-word relationship is productive in practice, that it contributes to the ceaseless performance, intelligibility, and utility of certain symbolic forms and to the (precarious) coherence of cultural production processes. Focusing on the commercial photography industry, the article shows how professional cultural practices are informed both by models of visual-verbal equivalence and by discourses of visual-verbal distinction and media-specific expertise, creating a dynamic intersection of images and words that is both generative and propulsive: It helps to bring commercial photographs into being as meaningful objects and it drives their movement across institutionally distinct sites of production, promotion, circulation, and reception. Finally, the article considers the impact of digital technologies on this process, asking what happens to the generative and productive capacities of the image-word dialectic when the technologies and techniques through which it occurs are substantially altered.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)241-264
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2003


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