Even with the advent of modern technology, photographs seem to be the stalwart medium through which we view life already lived. More so than paintings, more so than sculpture, more so than memory, we look to the photograph as a record of us – the evidence of our youth and grandeur and accomplishment and relationships. The ease and effectiveness of capturing photographs are the basis of that utility; their clear reflection of reality is the root of their predominance. The streamlining foundation of the first portion of this unit will be photographs – their history, their use in modern media, and their enduring ability to thrive as a true basis for valid information. Students may work regularly with famous photographs and researched photographs and photographs they've taken on their own, consistently analyzing what and how they communicate messages. Additionally, even pictures of works of art, it will be stressed, are photographs we have taken for the purposes of viewing them.
Wonderful examples of images which communicate volumes include those of Banksy, the notorious British graffiti artist, whose wall art has landed him behind bars on several occasions, but has indeed effected political change. More than this, the way he has made important the power of images in his books acts as a magnificent example of how even the creators of the images themselves are affected by them. Banksy states in his book
Wall and Peace,
"As I lay there listening to the cops on the tracks I realised I had to cut my painting time in half or give up altogether. I was staring straight up at the stenciled plate on the bottom of a fuel tank when I realised I could . . . . make each letter three feet high."
Pictures of his art are easy to find with a simple internet search – which students can conduct themselves on their cell phones – and are rich examples of images that inspire thought and change. One notorious piece of his mixed media graffiti art depicts a custodial worker washing away the words "What we do in life echoes in eternity" with the last word being washed away. Banksy exudes the image creator's reverence for pictures, speaking to the very essence of this curricular unit – pictures matter. More than that, they are as significant a communicative medium as words.
Furthermore, I believe it is important to show students that their daily and more frequent Internet usage is not without meaning – quite the contrary. The many social networking Web sites they frequently surf – Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram – have merit as media and can be used as a starting point for valid research and information gathering.
This is Happening: Life Through the Lens of Instagram
by Bridget Watson Payne (ed.)
is a fantastic photo journal of Instagram pictures, showing how even common social networking can produce images of beauty and significance.
Teachers may wish to guide an in-depth exploration of pictures – have students search for them or be provided with them, analyze the communicative nature of the image, create some themselves, and ultimately incorporate research done through the medium. More examples of good media to use are outlined further in the Classroom Activities section.