Tagged: Observation & interpretation
While people, places, and events change over time, so do the technologies that we use to understand and exchange ideas about them. One important change in photography itself is the move from film to digital formats.
How has photography itself changed over time? How have cameras changed? What is a photographic negative?
How does photography fit into the world of art?
How does the time period that Teenie Harris documented (1930–70s) fit into the history of photography?
Have your students take photographs using a film camera vs. a digital camera. How is this experience different? Ask them to consider how the different technology affects their process and experience as the photographer/artist.
If you do not have cameras in your classroom, find out if your students can collaborate with your school’s newspaper or yearbook staff to use their cameras and document some aspect of school life for them to use in print.
A photographer’s decisions are never completely unbiased. There are lots of choices to be made such as: What is included? What isn’t?
You could make a comparison to painting. What choices does a painter make? How are these similar? What’s different? Why might some people argue that photography isn’t really art, that it is just capturing “real life?” Ask students to use Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs to defend the fact that a photographer makes interpretative decisions about what they’re documenting.
How is a photograph important as a historical document? What are the strengths/weaknesses of using a photograph to make inferences about historical people/places? How do we use photographs in our current lives?
What visual information is factual and what is interpretive? How does it reflect the photographer’s point of view?
Experiment with “viewfinders” to help students understand how the frame of the photograph can influence what is and isn’t seen by the viewer in the final photograph.
What more can we learn from multiple views that we cannot learn from just one?
What is different when certain information is or isn’t included?
If you have access to cameras, allow students to experiment by taking a series of photographs of the same place and/or same person from different perspectives. If you have a limited number of cameras, find ways to break students into groups and use this as an opportunity to practice sharing.
Teenie Harris was a staff photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier and he also had his own photography studio. Additionally he often captured what was going on around him because he always had his camera on hand.
Use examples to illustrate each of these various contexts for Teenie Harris’s work—newspaper photos, studio shots, and candids. You could also include examples from Picturing the City, and possibly students’ personal photographs.
Compare photographs taken for these different purposes.
Have students had their portrait taken?
Do they take photographs for the school newspaper or maybe were featured there?
Do they ever take photographs of their friends around school or hanging out? What are those experiences like?
How do these different contexts for photographs change how we understand them? How is a photograph different in a newspaper versus the museum wall? Or in a frame in someone’s home? How do our personal points of view change how we understand these photographs?
Compare a selection of Teenie Harris’s photographs of celebrities with some taken by the paparazzi (you could find some appropriate examples in magazines or on the internet). What are some contrasts you can make between the photographs themselves and how the photographers captured their subjects? What are the legal issues connected to photography?
Allow students to explore a selection of Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs and identify a few as favorites. Ask them to write about why they find each photograph compelling. They can also jot down any questions they have about the photograph.
Students could respond to specific prompts: What’s appealing? How did the artist draw your attention? What is the impact? How do these discussions help students understand the process of critique and analysis?
This exercise can help students discover how history is written. A good place to start would be to research the history of the Hill District through Teenie Harris’s photographs.
Pick photos from different eras and explore how people, places, and events have changed over time—and why. You can view Harris’s photos by theme or thread to find a sequence of images with similar content that range from the 1930s to the 1970s. How is change evident in the photographs?
You can also research some of the important figures from the civil rights era.
Lead a discussion comparing Teenie Harris and the Picturing the City photographs in terms of race and gender relations.
What do you notice? How have things changed over time?
Research additional legislation since these people, places, and events were photographed (examples such as civil rights, equality, etc.).
Compare everyday experiences to major events. How can both be considered history? How can regular activities be history as much as major events? When does something become history?
Identify both everyday occurrences and major events in your history book. What point of view about history does your textbook take? What else could be included?
Is history happening right now? Five minutes ago? Or is history only in the more distant past?
Find examples of major events represented in Teenie Harris’s work. Research how they were described in their own time. Are they discussed differently now?
Describe contemporary events from your current perspective. You can use Picturing the City photographs or ones the students take of their school neighborhood. What might it look like to someone looking back 50 years from now?
Discuss examples of trustworthy sources for history.
How do people change when they know they are being watched or photographed?
Read about Harris’s connection to the neighborhood and people he photographed.
Category: History and the Everyday
, Defending one’s opinion
, Making inferences
, Observation & interpretation
Teenie Harris documented over 40 years of his personal experiences and interactions with others through his photographs. You can make a small-scale version of his body of work and recognize the influence of one person over time. The photographers in Picturing the City documented the changes and people, places, and events around downtown Pittsburgh over three recent years (from 2007–2010).
Discuss what can be concluded from examining many photographs, as opposed to just one or two.
How can we document our own lives, and as artists, make these everyday occurrences interesting? What does it tell us about ourselves, our neighborhoods? The world?
How can studying the past and observing the present help us be more thoughtful about possibilities for the future?
Challenge your students to be observant of the people, places, and events around you for a short period of time (maybe a few days or a week). Different prompts could be used each week to narrow or adjust the focus for your students.
Ask your students to collect things that they find, including pictures, objects, and ideas. Have them make note of new things that they become aware of because of their observations. Ask them to share with others. What do they learn about each other through their collected observations, notes, objects, etc.?
The class could start a blog about these everyday events. As a collection, these reflections and findings become a body of work, like Teenie Harris’s body of work.
Category: History and the Everyday
, Formal elements
, Observation & interpretation
Students can create imaginative and historically based narratives, inspired by Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs. A combination of close observation and research on the people, places, events, and time period can produce relevant investigations.
- Select a photograph by Teenie Harris or a Picturing the City artist that interests them.
- Make a list of observations (who, what, where, etc.) and jot down any questions they have about the people, places, or events.
- Do research connected with the people, places, events, and time period.
- Create dialogue between characters and/or imagine a larger storyline beyond the photograph.
- Share how stories reflect both research and imagination.
The follow-up conversation could address questions like: What impact does the photograph have on me? What does it say about its time and the impact on the people who lived during those times?
This could be implemented as a school-wide project, including teachers from a variety of disciplines, and include historical research, interviews, writing, art-making, and more. It could also occur each year to create a record of your school and neighborhood’s history—and what students want to see for its future.
Define the characteristics of your school community based on people, places, and events. Create a list of the class’s ideas.
Research the history of your school. This might include interviews with teachers, family, and community members as well as finding sources on the internet and in the library.
Discuss how you are learning about history, as well as contributing to and preserving the school and neighborhood’s history.
Share your findings with a larger community. Remember visual arts are a way to understand and exchange ideas, so how can findings be shared visually? Think about the variety of places to share these ideas, including bulletin boards, the yearbook, school newspaper, website, blog, etc.
Discuss how your students’ research and discoveries might lead to visions about the future of their school and the community surrounding it.
Category: Identity and Community
, Observation & interpretation
Photographs of people can make us curious about their lives, accomplishments, and experiences. How can we use our observation skills to prompt personally relevant investigations of these photographs? How did the artist capture something important? Just because it is a photograph, does that make it important?
Choose a variety of Teenie Harris and Picturing the City photographs depicting people.
Students should observe them carefully and take note of what more they might like to know about them. Ask them to make a list of questions they would ask the people in the photographs if they could. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next?
Share their questions and reasons with classmates in small groups. Have your students ask each other the same questions about the photographs. What are the responses from classmates about the photographs?
If possible, ask students to research something further about the photographs, such as the people, location, events, or the time period. Can they find answers to any of their questions?
Discuss what happens if you can’t find anything specific about the people, places, or events. What are possible factors for this? How can we use observations to create hypotheses and back them up? How does it prompt us to keep asking questions?
Ask students to bring in a recent photograph of themselves (or use this opportunity to take new photographs during class). Students can ask similar questions of their own photograph or of their classmates’ photographs. Such as: What are you doing? Where are you and why did you go there? What did you do next? They should think about what they would want someone in the future to know about them. How does the composition of their photograph, their pose, or the setting suggest something about their identity?