(see also Frank Baker's
Visual literacy web site)
students tend to believe everything they see. Critical thinking (and viewing) about
media messages, such as photographs, is a crucial
skill in the 21st century. Teachers should use photographic images
to help students explore the language of photography. Reading photos is an
important skill which will help them better appreciate print texts. So what is
“Visual literacy is the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of
skills ranging from simple identification—naming what one sees—to
complex interpretation of contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. Many
aspects of cognition are called upon, such as personal association,
questioning, speculating, analyzing, fact-finding, and categorizing.”
Source: P. Yenawine (1997) Thoughts on visual literacy, in J Flood, SB Heath,
and D Lapp (Eds) Handbook of research on teaching literacy
through the communicative and visual arts
literacy: reading a documentary photograph, Knowledge Quest, Volume 36, No 3 pp
7- 12 (ALA) January-February 2008
Using Documentary Photography Books with Reluctant Readers
in the High School Library,
Unshuttered lens: Dorothea Lange, documentary photography, and government work,
(TEACHING WITH ONLINE PRIMARY SOURCES: DOCUMENTS FROM THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES)
Teaching History: A Journal of Methods,
March 22, 2008
for Analyzing Visual Images
can be printed out and used as a single page handout for helping
students begin to understand the language of photography)
1. Examine the image holistically
what does it represent? What is your initial reaction? Does it convey a
2. Consider the nature of the image
Is this a professional portrait or a candid press shot?
Was this video taken at a prepared ceremony or a spontaneous event?
Were people, images, or objects deliberately posed to make a statement?
3. Examine perspective
Is the subject depicted n close-up or at a distance?
Does the subject appear in control of the environment or does the
background clash or dominate the frame?
4. Analyze contrasts and contexts
Is the background supportive, neutral, or hostile to the subject? Does
depict conflict or harmony?
5. Examine poses and body language of human figures
How are human figures depicted? What emotion do they seem to express?
6. Look for bias
Do you sense the photographers were trying to manipulate the people
or events depicted, casting them in either a favorable or negative
7. Consider the larger context
Does the image offer a fair representation of a larger event or an
8. Review the image for possible manipulation
Could camera angles or retouching have altered what appears to be a
record of actual events?
9. Consider the story the image seems to tell
What is the thesis of this image? What visual details or symbols
help tell the story?
Source: Chapter 3, page 50, Critical Reading, “The Sundance Reader” (4th
Ed, 2006) Mark Connelly, Thomson/Wadsworth