Assignment Number 8: Analyze this iconic image from 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, of a California mother as captured by the great Dorothea Lange. Caption information is available from Getty Images by clicking the photo. Then answer the questions below the photo, using the comments section. Do additional Internet research about the pictured event as needed, but make sure you are consulting reliable sources.
The Visual Rhetoric of Historic News Photos
(Adapted from the Core Concepts, Center for Media Literacy)
Analyzing how the message was constructed
- What kind of medium is it? (Photography, but with a digital or film camera?)
- What are the various elements that make up the whole (what exactly is depicted)?
- How similar or different is it to other depictions of the same subject (in other photographs)?
- Which technologies were used in its creation?
- How would it be different in a different medium?
- What choices were made that might have been made differently?
- What are the various jobs of the people who created this message?
Analyzing the creative language of the message.
- What do you notice about the way the message is constructed (see “Elements of Composition in Photography”)?
- Where is the camera? What is the viewpoint?
- How is the story told? What are people doing?
- Are there any visual symbols or metaphors?
- What’s the emotional appeal? Persuasive devices?
- What makes it seem “real”?
Understanding how different viewers bring different experiences
- Have you ever experienced anything like this?
- How close does it come to what you have experienced in real life?
- What did you learn from this example of media? What did you learn about yourself from experiencing the medium and its message?
- What did you learn from other people’s responses – and their experience?
- How many other interpretations could there be? How could we hear about them?
- How can you explain the different responses?
- Are other viewpoints just as valid as mine?
Analyzing embedded values and points of view
- How is the human experience characterized? What kinds of behaviors/consequences are depicted?
- What type of person is the reader/watcher/listener invited to identify with?
- What questions come to mind as you watch/read/listen?
- What ideas or values are being “sold” in this message?
- What political or economic ideas are communicated in the message?
- What judgments or statements are made about how we treat other people?
- What is the overall worldview?
- Are any ideas or perspectives left out? How would you find what’s missing?
Analyzing the purpose of creating the message
- Who’s in control of the creation and transmission of this message?
- Who are they sending it to? Do you know why?
- Who is served or who profits by this message?
- What economic decisions may have influenced the construction or transmission of this message?