Continuing to use familiar images that students can deal with, and a topic they can readily identify with I would move onto
Four pairs of shoes in the sand
The black and white photo shows four pair of sneakers on what appears to be beach sand. Inside each is a rolled up pair of socks. The sand is messed up in the background as though people have walked on it and you can tell by the shadows that the sun is out. This photo was again something the students could easily identify and expand on as we tried to take the four pairs of shoes and figure out where they were and what the circumstances might be around the picture. Students could readily imagine what was going on and write about what connection they could make to the photo. How did they know they were at the beach?
A Walker Evans photograph
Floyd Burroughs' Work Shoes
is a good contrast. In looking up the photo I came across a selection from
The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
by Fredric Jameson (Duke UP, 1991) which had no relationship to my topic other than it discussed a variety of works that also depicted shoes of various types and argued for their economic symbolism. The works included Van Gogh's
Painting of Peasant Shoes
; Andy Warhol's
Diamond Dust Shoes;
and Rene Magritte's
Le modele rouge.
Each photo or painting presents a pair of shoes; Warhol's picture of silvery high heels, Van Gogh's shoes which are closest to those pictured by Evans, and Magritte's surrealist painting of shoes missing the toe portion but showing a foot extending from the back portion of the shoe as one entity. I think that these photos and paintings offer students a chance to se how an object can have so much meaning and provoke so much thought. I am glad for the suggestion and the luck of finding the other images. I imagine there are other examples of pictures surrounding an object or theme that can be utilized as extensions of this unit.
What would happen if we put the sneakers on the sidewalk -- or on a rug? Why did the photographer have the socks in the sneakers? Students felt that the socks indicated that the people had gone barefooted so they could go into the water. A couple of the shoes had shoe laces still tied. The students realized that this meant whoever the people were they wanted to get their shoes off quickly so they did not untie them. It was unclear about the relative sizes of the shoes but they could see the possibility that this might be a family of adults and children. Then a few of them launched into stories about how their parents like to relax at the beach. Getting rid of your shoes means you are free to move around.
We talked about walking on sand at the beach and what it felt like. Students began to talk about the hot sand and how it got between their toes when they walked on the beach. Even though there was not a lot of detail in the picture -- just four pairs of sneakers, socks and sand -- yet we got the message. I suggest take a piece of chart paper and have students brainstorm what the picture conjures up. We made quite a list beginning with words like sand, water, swimming, etc. So sometimes less is more. If a writer uses a few good descriptive words it can help the reader picture a detailed setting.