Reading and Researching Photographs Library of Congress

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TE R M I N O LO GY, what the photograph means 5 The ultimate goal is to. analyze groups of photographs expeditiously but, The SAA Glossary revised defines visual literacy starting with a single image is usually easier. as the ability to decipher cultural and technologi. cal systems that express meaning using graphic Example see fig Look for more than a minute. images icons or symbols In more general terms at the portrait of the Sylvester Rawding family taken. visual literacy is the ability to understand read in at their sod house in Custer County. and use write images and to think and learn in Nebraska The photographer Solomon D Butcher. terms of images 4 used a view camera and large glass. negatives to capture this scene and many others for. his proposed county history An initial reaction to. also contributes to determining the evidential informa the photo might be people and animals posed near. tional artifactual and associational values of photo a low building Continued observation could. graphic documents For more information about those expand the inventory of the image s contents to. values see chapter Appraisal and Acquisitions include such features as a cow on the roof a large. watermelon cut open on a table covered by a circu, Building Visual O bs er vat ion Skills lar cloth two big glass windows and two doors one. open the parents seated in chairs at each end of the. A simple exercise for analyzing photographs can help. table mother wearing an apron and father holding, archivists improve their visual observation skills by. a hat and coat the daughter seated next to the three. learning to spot key visual elements and weave differ. sons standing and a dog and a pair of mules 6, ent aspects of an image into a coherent description.
This exercise usually begins by finding an interesting. photograph and looking at it for a minute or more As part of this exercise to stimulate visual aware. The next step is to name everything seen in the image ness skills an archivist should also speculate about the. The exercise concludes with writing a summary of circumstances behind the photograph Try to account. Fig 3 1 Solomon D Butcher Sylvester Rawding family sod house north of Sargent Custer County Nebraska 1886 The 1885. Census mentions Sylvester wife Emma daughter Bessie age 16 son Philip age 17 son Willie age 7 son Harry age 15 Glass. plate negative 6 5 by 8 5 inches RG2608 PH 1784 Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society Photograph Collections. 60 photographs archival care and management, for the influences on the image by devising a narrative. that explains what the photograph might mean, Identify all assumptions False assumptions Theorizing about the contextual meaning raises. are all too easy to make when looking at awareness of the relationship between the photogra. photographs To build awareness of your own pher and the subject and how they wanted the image. assumptions as well as those in any written text to function In a real life situation an archivist would. accompanying the photographs ask the reason for ask many questions and verify facts before writing the. each word or date that describes a photograph following kind of caption paragraph. How do I know that this is true Flagging obvious, assumptions with question marks is a useful Example Solomon Butcher became a full time. tracking technique when drafting captions or photographer in when he decided to compile. taking notes Placing check marks by fact an illustrated history of Custer County and. checked information can help the less obvious include many family portraits and stories The. assumptions stand out because the information Sylvester Rawding family posed for a portrait that. that might still need to be verified will lack check would commemorate their contribution to set. marks tling the prairie The photographer portrayed the. family s general living conditions as well as their. Example see fig 3 1 If the Rawding group pride in their homestead by posing them with. portrait didn t have the word family in its their sod house several animals and appetizing. title and the individual names of the family watermelons Despite the difficulties of working. members in its extended caption describing with a large glass plate camera outdoors Butcher. the group portrait as a family would be a risky kept most faces in sharp focus and achieved a leg. assumption One or more of the people might ible composition Butcher also gave this portrait a. be hired workers The question about the cow distinctive touch by making the cow appear to be. standing literally on the roof can be resolved standing on the roof. only in the sense that the cow is tethered to Another kind of visual analysis exercise empha. a hillside that would have been part of the sizes the ability to distinguish between what the. sod house roof if the house were dug back into viewer infers from looking at an image and what. the hill information needs to be verified The viewer learns to. take photographs at more than face value and to ques. tion assumptions A worksheet can prompt viewers to. P h oto g r a ph A n a lys i s Wo r k s h e e t 7,S t e p 1 O b s e r va t i o n. A Study the photograph for 2 minutes Form an overall impression of the photograph and then examine its. features more closely Next divide the photograph into quadrants and study each section to see what new. details become visible,B List what you see in the photograph.
C Think about who made the photograph and why What purpose does the photograph serve. D Consider how the photograph expresses information What visual elements or techniques does it use. S t e p 2 I n f e re n c e, Based on what you have observed above list three things you might infer from this photograph. Step 3 Questions, A What questions does this photograph raise in your mind. B Where could you find answers to them,Reading and Researching Photographs 61. state what they think a photograph means and then preserve the context in which photographs were creat. figure out how to verify the ideas ed so that researchers can investigate the full meaning. of photographs, Example The Rawding family photograph might One approach to understanding photographs. lead an observer to infer quite opposite ideas The distinguishes three levels of meaning of things. portrait could show either successful homestead shown in a photo about the subject matter and. ers or struggling pioneers The observer should circumstances and abstract elements visual. pose a wide variety of questions such as What expression techniques and creator viewpoints 8. signs of achievement or hardship are visible Another method identifies three aspects of photo. How typical of prairie settlement life do the graphs to ask questions about the image creation. family s circumstances appear to be and Why the image itself and the intended audience 9 Both. is everyone lined up in a single row Answering techniques have the common goal of understanding. the questions would involve looking at more pho photographs by emphasizing the context of their. tographs by Solomon Butcher studying his pur creation as well as their content. pose for making the photographs reading about, life in sod houses and Nebraska in the s and Example see fig Even a quick reading of this.
researching the family s history daguerreotype shows a woman seated at a sewing. machine No caption names the woman nor is, Recog nizing D iffere nt Kinds of Meaning the photographer identified but the machine is a. Grover and Baker industrial model introduced in, The question What do these photographs mean The woman is therefore likely to be a wage. rarely has one correct answer If nothing else archivists earning seamstress which fits an image genre. try to account for the factual or representational con called occupational photographs One writer. tent shown in photographs They also document and concluded Whether made for a proud member. of the emerging class of skilled industrial workers. or by a manufacturer for advertising purposes the,photograph carefully presents sewing and the. use of sewing machines as part of a respectable,middle class lifestyle 10. Try one of the photo analysis exercises with,fig a group of newsboy photographs by Lewis.
Hine Looking at a series of related, photographs improves the ability to understand the. photographer s purpose and how he interacted, with his subjects Lewis Hine sometimes left his own. shadow in photographs he doesn t seem to be hiding. his presence or the fact that he asked the boys to pose. for him in particular ways Hine also caught more, spontaneous scenes such as the newsboys watching a. race Viewing additional photographs by Hine would,reveal that he took more than two hundred images. of newsboys in many different cities as part of, his investigative work for the National Child Labor.
Committee NCLC between approximately,and The NCLC used the photographs in. exhibits slide lectures newspapers magazines and, other publications in its campaign to persuade people. Fig 3 2 Unidentified photographer Occupational portrait of a. to change the child labor laws and improve children s. woman working at a sewing machine 1853 or later Sixth. plate hand colored daguerreotype 23 4 by 31 4 inches lives 11. LC USZC4 3598 Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints Developing visual literacy skills ensures that. Photographs Division archivists become aware of the photographers cultural. 62 photographs archival care and management, Fig 3 3 Lewis Hine for the National Child Labor Committee Newsboy photographs in the Street Trades albums 1908 1920. Gelatin silver prints between 4 5 by 3 5 inches and 5 by 6 5 inches Bottom left Watching the races the newsboys picnic. Cincinnati August 1908 LC DIG nclc 03169 Center left John Howell an Indianapolis newsboy Makes 75 some days Begins at 6. a m Sundays August 1908 LC DIG nclc 03225 Top left Six year old boy Louis Shuman and his 11 year old brother Dallas news. boys The little fellow usually has a brother who makes him do most of the work October 1913 LC DIG nclc 03904 Top right. Exhibit panel 1913 LC DIG nclc 03896 Bottom right Joseph Wench newsboy 315 W 2nd St 7 years of age Selling papers 2. years Wilmington Del May 1910 LC DIG nclc 03593 Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints Photographs Division. Reading and Researching Photographs 63, assumptions deliberate deceptions propaganda Rhythm the repeating use of visual elements as. efforts and staged scenes because they affect the mean a design feature within a photograph. ing of photographs For information about authentici. ty issues and the manipulation of images as an inherent Sequence a serial arrangement of images that. aspect of photography see chapter Photographs in presents a story explains a process or docu. Archival Collections and chapter Appraisal and ments an activity. Acquisitions, Reading Visual Vocabular y Ele me nts Space the creative use of white or background.
Photographs express the photographer s viewpoint, through visual elements that can be thought of as a Tonal range the number of shades between the. specialized vocabulary Considering such characteris lightest and darkest areas of an image. tics as composition contrast and focus helps archivists. understand how images convey information This Example see fig Lewis Hine relied on many. aspect of visual literacy can help archivists not only visual vocabulary elements to strengthen his. read photographs but determine which images are message about the plight of child laborers His. more legible than others when confronted with straightforward compositions often placed the. many similar photographs to choose among children in the center of the images to accentuate. The visual vocabulary of photographs includes their need for assistance from those who saw the. the following elements 12 photographs Hine drew attention to the chil. dren s very young ages by placing them near,Color balance the overall color of an image. adults or recognizable street fixtures which,especially as regards deviation from accurate. emphasized their short heights and small bodies,reproduction of neutral tones also the ability. He varied the depth of field and perspective to,of photographic materials to reproduce colors.
portray the children in both close up portraits,accurately. and amid risky surroundings The selection of, Composition the arrangement of the subject appropriate exposure times contributes to the. elements in the image general legibility of these photographs The. blurred figures and uneven lighting in some, Contrast the relative difference between the images reflect the hazards of using cumbersome. lightest and darkest areas of an image high glass negative camera equipment in busy street. contrast images have a significant difference settings. between the highlights and shadows and often, have very few mid tones Reading negatives fluently requires specialized. experience The reversed polarity of black and white. Depth of field the range of distances in which negatives makes it hard to recognize subject content. the photographic subject can be captured with especially with small mm film frames The dark. sharpness areas such as roadways appear to be light while light. elements such as a daytime sky appear to be dark, Exposure the intensity and duration of light The dyes in color negatives can be difficult to trans.
or other radiant energy used to make a photo late to their full color transparency or print counter. reading and researching photographs Helena Zinkham Introduction Basic visual literacy the ability to read pictorial images is a fundamental skill necessary for working with photographs Learning to recognize the general subject matter shown in visual materials is an important first step To convey information about photographs as historical resources archivists librarians and

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