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Russell Hutson

Dr. Erin Dietel-McLaughlin

WR13300 Section 09

11 October 2013

The Power of Facial Expression

In a series of images entitled “North Dakota Oil Boom,” photographer Terry Evans

transports her viewers into a barren Midwestern landscape being transformed by the oil industry.

Through these photographs, Evans unveils the destruction of not only the terrain but also the

emotions of the people who are involved. While greatly representational, the pictures also offer a

deeper understanding of the impact of the oil industry through a series of rhetorical devices.

According to James Herrick in “An Overview of Rhetoric”, rhetoric is defined as, “The

systematic study and intentional practice of effective symbolic expression” (7). This definition of

rhetorical aspects will be used to analyze the four distinct portraits in order to argue the deeper

message that hides within them. At first glace, the four individuals pictured might not seem

related to one another due to their differences in background or age. However, after deeper

analysis and reasoning, it is certain that they are interlaced through one distinct issue that has

changed all of their lives in some way. By photographing the distraught faces of these characters,

Terry Evans is able to effectively argue the negative effects that the oil boom in North Dakota

has had on its participants through the disheartened and powerful emotion that is conveyed

through each facial expression.

Compared to the series of photographs as a whole, the four-portrait segment carries an

extremely deep rhetorical influence through the feelings and emotions transmitted to the

audience. This unique arrangement of images provides viewers with a real sense of intimacy

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with each human being, as they are easily presented thorough close-up photography. In reference

to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and the case being made against racial hatred,

Herrick argues:

Careful planning went into the decisions about which scenes visitors would encounter as

they entered the museum, as they progressed through it, and as they exited. The great

impact of this museum is enhanced by its careful arrangement. Like arguments and

appeals, the arrangement of a message has occupied the attention of rhetorical theorists

such as Cicero from very early times. (14)

In Evans’ collection displayed at the Snite Museum at Notre Dame, this piece is positioned to the

far right, at the end of the exhibit. While one might think that there is no meaning to this

arrangement, there is no doubt that it is intended for mature audiences to leave this piece with

dark emotions as they stare into each individuals eyes. This arrangement of her series is an

effective rhetorical strategy that arouses a feeling of sadness and contributes to the deeper

meaning of her work as a whole. Besides the location of this piece in relation to the collective

series, Evans’ use of framing plays an impactful role in her argument. While a wide ranged

image could have been chosen to include scenery and a backdrop, Evans instead decides to show

each face in a much smaller perspective. It seems significant that this work is closed with four

large portrayals, while the preceding landscapes contain no individuals at all:

The close ups achieved through mobile framing and reframing enable viewers to

experience the past on the intimate terms they have been conditioned… reframed shots

have rhetorical implications because they invite viewers to recognize that the

photographs are versions of the past that can be evaluated for the ideological implications

of their composition. (107)

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It’s now clear that Evans choice of framing was an intriguing feature of her work that requires

her audience to deeply analyze the features of the faces in order to understand the photographs.

The rhetorical decision to portray only the faces in this artwork empowers the deep emotion felt

through each image as viewers are forced to interpret what the individual is experiencing based

only off of facial language. Consequently, these sorrowful feelings substantially enrich the main

argument of Evans’ collection.

While the pictures themselves represent the remorse felt by each victim, the

accompanying captions aside them reveal the difficult situation that each person is experiencing.

Between the elder Edyth Pladson who had three oil wells built on her family farm to Harley

Bingerheimer, a weathered oil rig worker of fifteen years, all four are evidently in negative

positions when the unforgettable explanations are combined with the emotions channeled

through the images themselves. In another passage from Herrick’s work, he contends that,

“Writers, speakers, composers, or other sources typically wish to present arguments and appeals

in a manner that is attractive, memorable, or perhaps even shocking to the intended audience”

(14). Evans’ careful diction throughout each caption is an important rhetorical component that

not only describes each separately, but also relates each image into one, meaningful piece. While

three of the four individuals have had oilrigs built on their land, Harley Bingerheimer comes

from a different background. With a hard hat upon his head and oil striped across his face, it is

clear that his many years of devotion have taken a toll on him. This range in character that

Evans’ depicts plays an important role in her argument, and is described well by Lancioni:

“Social class… could be inferred from the pose the photographer employed for the subject and

the amount of retouching expended on the final product” (108). By including people from

different socioeconomic circumstances, this piece declares the detrimental force the oil boom is

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having on all of its constituents, no matter who they are. From a different point of view, one

might argue that this span of social class is used to show that working individuals, like Harley,

have been more adversely affected than those who were forced to build rigs on their land. While

these people might be correct, they must also admit the importance of the larger message as a

whole, and that although there might be differences in pain, it is all cumulative as every

individual is a victim of the same perpetrator: the oil boom.

Through her many elements of rhetoric, most specifically emotion, Terry Evans is able to

successfully persuade her scholarly audience of the strain the oil boom of North Dakota is having

on its partakers. Despite their initial simplicity, Evans’ four headshots are extremely rhetorical

due to the intense emotion that is felt after analyzing both the images themselves and the

captions that aid them. Compared to the other images that compromise the North Dakota scene,

this four-portrait work could easily be overlooked as less important in regards to their simplistic,

portrayal nature. However, the complexity and influence through emotion by the faces is enough

to make them a momentous ending piece to include in Evan’s scene. Hanging in the Snite

Museum at Notre Dame, it’s indisputable that Evan’s wishes her work to be analyzed in such a

way by intelligent students and faculty. As students attending a school in Indiana, it is likely that

many have never traveled to North Dakota, with no such prior knowledge to this event that is

affecting so many lives in a harmful way. With this perspective, many often take for granted the

oil they put into their automobiles each day, given the amount of hardships and lives harmed to

produce it. Terry Evans does an interesting job with the placement of her work, and it’s clear that

she wants her audience to think about the events that are taking place miles from these images.

Thinking in this kind of way brings a whole new point of view onto four simple images, whose

faces continue to stare meaningfully at intrigued university students.

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Works Cited

Evans, Terry. North Dakota Oil Boom. 2011. Photograph. Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame,


Herrick, James. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Pearson Education

2005 Boston.

Lancioni, Judith. "Rhetoric of the Frame." Visual Rhetoric: A Reader in Communication and

American Culture. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. 105-17. Print.