No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

June 4th, 2007

about the book

Posted by Hariman in

A gaunt woman stares into the bleakness of the Great Depression. An exuberant sailor plants a kiss on a nurse in the heart of Times Square. A naked Vietnamese girl runs in terror from a napalm attack. An unarmed man stops a tank in Tiananmen Square. These and a handful of other photographs have become icons of public culture: widely recognized, historically significant, emotionally resonant images that are used repeatedly to negotiate civic identity. But why are these images so powerful? How do they remain meaningful across generations? What do they expose—and what goes unsaid?

In No Caption Needed, Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites provide the definitive study of the iconic photograph as a dynamic form of public art. Their critical analyses of nine individual icons explore the photographs themselves and their subsequent circulation through an astonishing array of media, including stamps, posters, billboards, editorial cartoons, TV shows, Web pages, tattoos, and more. As these iconic images are reproduced and refashioned by governments, commercial advertisers, journalists, grassroots advocates, bloggers, and artists, their alterations throw key features of political experience into sharp relief. Iconic images are revealed as models of visual eloquence, signposts for collective memory, means of persuasion across the political spectrum, and a crucial resource for critical reflection.

Arguing against the conventional belief that visual images short-circuit rational deliberation and radical critique, Hariman and Lucaites make a bold case for the value of visual imagery in a liberal-democratic society. No Caption Needed is a compelling demonstration of photojournalism’s vital contribution to public life.

Blurbs from the book jacket:

“I was truly astounded by the intelligence of the analyses in No Caption Needed, and the authors’ refusal to either over- or underestimate the power of these iconic images. Beyond that, Hariman and Lucaites engage in a profound reflection on the role of iconic journalistic photographs in modern democratic societies, the way they become ideological totems, or provocatives to further controversy. This book will be the starting point for any future attempt to deal with the problem of the iconic photograph and its social uses.” W. J. T. Mitchell, author of What Do Pictures Want?

“Through outstanding studies of specific iconic images, Hariman and Lucaites address powerfully the emotional resonance and political complexity of photojournalism. They demonstrate how the collective response to photographs can reveal national and cultural character. Their discussion of these themes is a service and tribute to all those who care about visual communication. Photojournalists and citizens alike can learn a great deal from this terrific book.” Peter Turnley, photojournalist and author of The Unseen Gulf War

“This authoritative, thought-provoking book analyses the genesis and reception of key American images, from Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother to pictures of the Challenger disaster and 9/11. Drawing extensively on the recent scholarly literature, it demonstrates the pivotal position of the still photograph in modern visual culture. It will be essential reading for students of twentieth-century photojournalism, propaganda, and mass media. Highly recommended.” Robin Lenman, general editor, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph

“No Caption Needed is a fascinating study of why a photograph is successful, and what happens to that image once it enters America’s collective conscious as an icon. Hariman and Lucaites’s exhaustively researched book provides thoughtful insight into how some photographs have helped to shape America’s cultural identity, and explains how one image can be used by different parties to fulfill different agendas. I recommend this book to anybody interested in the history and development of visual culture in the United States.” Ashley Gilbertson, photographer and author of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Migrant Mother and the Times Square Kiss
Flag Raisings at Iwo Jima and Ground Zero
Kent State
Accidental Napalm
Tiananmen Square
The Hindenburg and Challenger Explosions
Visual Democracy

The Northwestern Observer
May 23, 2007

No Caption Needed: New Book Focuses on the Iconic Photo



. . . In “No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture and Liberal Democracy,” scholars Robert Hariman of Northwestern University and John Louis Lucaites of Indiana University provide a detailed look at the iconic photograph as a dynamic form of public art that both reflects and shapes cultural values.

“The study of visual culture has been booming for more than a decade, with much of the focus on electronic media,” says Hariman, Northwestern professor of communication studies. “We believe that the impact of photojournalism — which may be seen as more familiar, more old fashioned and less exciting — has been taken for granted and overlooked as a powerful tool in forging public identity. . . . ”


MEDIA CONTACT: Wendy Leopold at 847-491-4890 or

Indiana University Research and Creative Activity Magazine

American Icons

by Ryan Piurek

. . . Lucaites believes that photojournalism and documentary photography do more than help us remember powerful moments. These “visual rhetorics” also provide us with a way of seeing ourselves as a democracy and disseminating democracy’s core principles to others.

“Photojournalism, in general, underwrites liberal democratic public culture,” he says. . . . Iconic images—those famous images that we all remember—may well be the photojournalist’s “command performance,” Lucaites says, teaching us what it means to live in democratic society. Iconic photos can serve as allegories, helping us understand the tension between the individual and the collective (are we individuals living in a nation or a nation of individuals?), address how to deal with dissent, or explain the risks associated with industrial and technological progress. . . .


An EXCERPT is available at

Thanks to those who have plugged the book or the blog, including Jim Aune at the Blogora and Pete Lit in the first week, and then Eszter at Crooked Timber and Robin at Snarkmarket. We’re proud also to be featured by Steve Shapiro at Rainy Day Books: “Hariman and Lucaites explore a variety of issues in this intriguingly argued book about art and democracy; photography, they claim, is more than the art of the modern era: it is also the art form of democracy, . . . The book brings up many questions that may have rolled around in one’s mind but never really took any shape.”

I’m sure I’ve missed some folks, and hope to get to them when I get a minute to update again.


The 2007 Bruce E. Gronbeck Political Communication Research Award, which is administered by the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research at the University of Iowa. Professor Gronbeck’s career reflects key changes in rhetorical studies during the past four decades, as well as his irrepressible combination of analytical rigor and good humor.

The 2008 recipient of the Susanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, presented by the Media Ecology Association. Susanne Langer was an important resource in our undergraduate educations and graduate school, and the MEA award has placed us in very good company indeed.

The 2007 Frank Luther Mott–Kappa Tau Alpha Journalism & Mass Communication Research Award for “the best research-based book about journalism or mass communication published each year.” Frank Mott’s achievements include the Pulitzer Prize, and Kappa Tau Alpha is the journalism and mass communication national honors society. We are very pleased to have our work recognized by scholars and professionals in journalism and mass communication, and to be joining the remarkable list of previous award winners.

The 2008 Diamond Anniversary Award and the 2008 Winans-Wichelns Award from the National Communication Association.  We are, of course, honored and very pleased to receive the two book awards offered by our primary professional organization.

4 Responses to ' about the book '

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  1. on April 14th, 2008 at 5:29 am

    […] about the book […]

  2. on October 12th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    […] research by ourselves, informed by Hariman and Lucaites’ book No Caption Needed that analyses the circulation of iconic images in different genres and media, will attempt to […]

  3. on December 3rd, 2010 at 5:10 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Martijn Kleppe, Martijn Kleppe. Martijn Kleppe said: Lees vooral het boek! RT @crishake: Voor wie van (nieuws)fotografie houdt (thanks @MartKleppe) […]

  4. on June 9th, 2012 at 1:06 am

    […] genoeg komt de foto niet aan bod in het must-read boek over icoonfoto’s: No Caption Needed. Echter, de derde foto die deze maand weer in het nieuws is gekomen, wordt er wel in besproken: de […]

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