How To Read A Photograph

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William Eggleston

What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography – Roland Barthes

When we are young we are taught to read: to link words together and carefully consider the meanings, nuances, and impact of written language. Like words, photographs express human thought and emotion, record significant personal and historic events, and can influence our thoughts and actions. Though we live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with visual information, few students are ever taught to read images. When we slow down to carefully examine and discuss visual images, we expand our observation and reflective thinking skills, form connections to many aspects of human experience, and foster an expanded concept of literacy, one that includes close and thoughtful “readings” of works from a variety of media. This process encourages awareness that an image is the result of a series of choices made by an artist, representing one possible interpretation of a given subject rather than a single “truthful” account. It further encourages students to carefully consider and articulate the choices they make in their own development as artists and thinkers.

Look carefully at the photograph: • Describe what you see. • What can you tell about how this image was made? Consider the techniques and visual strategies used by the artist such as use of light, time of day, vantage point, focus, framing and composition, etc. • What moods or feelings are expressed in this photograph? How are they conveyed? • What do you think this work is about? Why? • What do you know to be true? What assumptions might you have made?

Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago

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