After working with these simpler straightforward images we would then turn to some more complicated photos. I would begin with three photos by Robert Doisneau (1912-1994). Doisneau lived in Paris and eschewed the artistry of photography in favor of capturing the special moment in everyday life. He wandered the streets of Paris taking pictures.
The first I would like to consider is
The Fallen Horse (1942
which as the title suggest is of a horse lying on the ground in a street of Paris while a group of bystanders looks on. The horse is wearing blinders on its head and seems to be on its side. There are small puddles on the street and one of the bystanders has an open umbrella. This photo had great appeal for my students because of the presence of an animal that seemed to be in distress. Their first reaction was a collective cry of Ohhhh! The children immediately thought the horse was having a baby. When I told them that the title was
Fallen Horse (1942)
we shifted discussion to the fact that the horse was not on the ground because of some natural event. Could they imagine a horse falling? How could it happen?
One of the things that make this photo so appealing is the use of light and dark. The horse stands out and is easily recognized as the main focus with its whiteness. A technique that photographers often use is that of contrasting light and dark. Again a suggestion was made to me that children might make a picture in which they highlight one element by using specific coloration of perhaps do a black and white drawing. Drawing is an excellent way that teachers use to connect children's ideas and their words. Beginning with a picture often helps to focus the child's thoughts and ideas.
Further discussion concerned the setting. They could tell that the setting was a city -- a building was in the background. Then they speculated that the horse had run away from a farm. I asked them if it was strange to see a horse in the city. They said no because sometimes the police ride horses and in some cities there are carriages pulled by horses that take people around. A couple of the children had ridden in a carriage in New York with their parents.
We then turned to the photographer and his point of view as he shot the picture. Where was he when he took this photo? Why didn't he run across the street and get a close-up of the horse? They agreed after I isolated the horse that pulling back and showing the whole scene including the reaction of the people made it more interesting. We talked about how in their stories they had to not only describe a scene put give reactions and feelings when they wrote. It would be good at this point to have students take the point of view of one of the spectators in the photo and write from their perspective a journal entry they might make about seeing the horse.
The second photograph is called
Musician in the Rain
(1957). In the photo a man with a bass violin stands holding his umbrella over the instrument while another man continues to paint a picture. My student's first reaction was one of amusement. Something about the man with the bass violin is so absurd. They finally explained with a little prodding that the unusualness of the circumstances made them laugh. The man was holding his umbrella over the instrument instead of himself. To many it seemed that the bass violin was almost like another person. It was covered with its own coat (protective cover) same as the man. From his behavior toward the bass violin students felt that the man must treasure the instrument because he would rather get wet than let his instrument be harmed. Further they speculated that the man was probably waiting for a taxi to take him home or to a concert where he was going to play.
The painter in the photo was a bit more difficult to discern. His back is to us and we can tell he is painting a picture. It looks like it contains a road or street. Why didn't he just stop painting? He must want to finish that picture very badly. The man with the instrument is amusing but the painter doesn't send an immediate emotional feeling. We started to converse about things we like to do. I suggested that students think of activities they do outside. Sometimes you're playing ball or riding your bike and the weather changes but you keep playing. Sometimes it starts to get dark and you can barely see the ball but you keep playing -- Why? Students were quick to say that when they are doing something that they enjoy it is hard to leave it. I suggested that what the photograph was perhaps showing them about the painter and the musician is that they really enjoyed what they were doing and that art and music were very important to them.
I told them that the title of the picture is
Musician in the Rain (1957)
. Why did the photographer include the painter? I like to cut out one of the images in the picture and ask students how the feeling of the picture changes. In this case I covered the painter. Why was he in the photo and yet the title focused on the musician? Students thought the musician seemed to be closer to them and they could see his face. He was the one they could tell the most about. Yet when the painter was cut out they felt something was missing. It seemed more balanced when the two people were there.
The third Doisneau picture is called
(1956). Bolides is a meteor that explodes before it crashes to earth. In it a boy in a toy car is looking at a smashed up car with its front wheel on the sidewalk. Students thought that maybe the driver of the car had been hurt or maybe fled; leaving the car there so the police would not catch him. I asked them why the photographer had taken a picture of the boy in a toy car next to a real car that had been smashed up. Someone thought it was a warning about driving a car and how it was dangerous. They also suggested that the boy could have been hit because the car came on the sidewalk where it didn't belong. However, the boy with his toy car couldn't go in the street because he didn't have a real car but a toy. Maybe they speculated that he would be a better driver when he grew up because of seeing this smashed car. I asked them what they thought about when adults make mistakes. They thought that everybody can make a mistake although adults should know better. They should be examples for children. When I asked if they thought the picture were serious they said no there was something funny about the boy being a better driver than the adult.
I then put up the three photos by Doisneau and the children agreed that the photos were looking at everyday things that happen. They felt that the
Fallen Horse (1942)
photo was beautiful and sad. There was something about the black and white shadows that made them like that photo the best. The other two:
Musician in the Rain
(1956) were less serious.