Rhetorics of the overlooked: On the communicative modes of stock advertising images

Paul Frosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


What produces the visual ground of intelligibility within consumer cultures, the environment of 'banal' images within which selected acts of attentiveness and specific encounters with arresting figures become possible? Taking a long-neglected industry - stock photography - as a key site for the creation of such an environment, this article explores this question, analysing the ways in which advertising and marketing photographs are promoted across institutionally segregated sites of production, distribution, circulation and reception. This promotion works according to two seemingly contradictory rhetorics: a 'mission' rhetoric of repetitive yet inconspicuous citation that addresses the practical consciousness of consumers, and a 'system' rhetoric of self-promotional theatricality and persuasive power that addresses professional cultural intermediaries (art directors, designers, etc.). The article traces these communicative modes in relation to questions of classification, the perceptual dynamics of mediation and consumption, and the narrative and mythic temporalities of consumer cultures, arguing that the bulk of advertising images communicate by systematically performing 'ordinariness' as an overlooked and unremarkable visual field.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)171-196
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Consumption
  • Cultural production
  • Myth
  • Narrative
  • Ordinariness
  • Stock photography
  • Visual culture


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