50 shades of grey: the visual rhetoric of Nelson Mandela on Google Images

Bernadine Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


On December 7th 2013, South Africa’s first democratically elected president died at his Houghton home, aged 95. While the news was not unexpected – the leader had been ill for some time – the response from the media and public alike was emotional and heartfelt. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had for many years been portrayed as a grandfatherly figure, a peaceful and good-spirited man of the people. Through images and discourse, the presentation of Mandela was one-sided – much of his pre-1994 struggle against Apartheid was glossed over in favour of the elderly, white-haired “Tata”, or grandfather, signification. How will Mandela’s image be memorialised? What is the predominant image of Mandela in popular memory? This paper therefore has three aims: to analyse the widely shared image of Nelson Mandela as represented through Google Images; to compare the juxtaposition of the Mandela image to the website on which it was found; and finally to compare the stereotyped image of Mandela to the predominant images of other leaders similar in statue and history. The conclusion suggests, in alignment with David Spurr’s (1994) theory, that non-Western leaders are of-ten stripped of their ability to cause action, the image being rather one of passive behaviour. This is an inductive visual rhetoric approach (Foss 2005:150). It is image-based, rather than rhetoric theory based, and pushes the boundaries of theory beyond the bounds of discourse. Thus, while Spurr discusses Rhetoric of Empire, I discuss the visual rhetoric of power – how power is fractured and fragmented through the visual positioning of human beings in photographs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
EventInternational Association of Media and Communication Research 2014: Region as frame: politics, presence, practice - Hyderabad, India
Duration: 15 Jul 201419 Jul 2014


ConferenceInternational Association of Media and Communication Research 2014
Abbreviated titleIAMCR 2014
Internet address


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  • DST/NRF Innovation Scholarship

    Jones, B. (Recipient), 2014

    Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively

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