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[Detail] Migrant agricultural worker

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Students can learn to analyze and interpret photographs by thinking of them as the creations of different photographers with different approaches. Have students read about two or more photographers in the Special Presentation "Documenting America: Photographers on Assignment". Then have them browse the photographs by contributor and choose images by these photographers for analysis and comparison.

Have them answer the following questions about each picture:

  • What is the subject of the photograph? Where was it taken?
  • What stands out to you? Tiny details or big shapes? People or things?
  • What is its mood? How does it make you feel to look at it?
  • Which photograph do you like best? Why?
  • What is different about the photographs? What is the same?
  • Do the photographs reflect what you read about their creators? Why or why not?
  • What do you think the photographer might be trying to communicate about his subject? What does she want you to know or notice about her subject?
  • Do the photographs reinforce points of view? Are they the same?
  • Do the images or their captions reflect a bias? At what point does a photograph become biased? Are these "documentary" photographs objective? To what extent?

Students can also compare photographs of the same subject by browsing by subject. Or students may choose to compare photographs dealing with the issue of segregation. search Forrest City, Arkansas, for photographs depicting relief efforts for flood refugees. search Hill House (an experimental cooperative) and colored for other pertinent images. Analyze, interpret, and compare these photographs using the preceding questions.