In this unit, we explore the language of visual images. Consider the following comments by 19th-20th century

artists Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee:

"Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." 

"Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it makes visible."

Consult the "Exams" page of this website for a list of terms, ideas, works, and artists to learn.

Maple Leaves at Mama by Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige 

Lamentation by Albrecht Dürer 

"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange 

One (Number 31, 1950) by Jackson Pollock 

The Tribute Money by Masaccio

Bedtime Aviation by Rob Gonsalves 

Film short: Pollock '51, by Hans Namath



Consider each photo choice by following these 4 steps:

Step 1

Without showing the photo to your group members, describe it to them. Give a specific description, with sufficient details that allow your group to visualize the photo without seeing it. Be careful to distinguish between facts and inferences, that is, pay attention to the difference between what you see and what you think the photo is communicating. 

Step 2

Show the photo to the members of your group. Discuss how the photo matches or differs from what they imagined as they listened to your description.  

Step 3

Interpret the photo. Think about how the photographer’s choices create meaning and communicate ideas. Consider the culture and the context of the photograph. Finally, identify the purpose of the photo: what is it attempting to communicate. Do you all agree? Discuss differences of opinion, if any. Come to a group consensus of what the photo is attempting to communicate. 

Step 4

Evaluate the photo. Discuss how well the photo communicates the idea(s) you identified in Step 3. Consider all aspects of the photo, including your emotional reaction to it. What changes would you make to increase the effectiveness of the photo?

Questions to ask when studying a documentary photograph

1. Who took the photograph?

2. Why and for whom was the photograph taken?

3. How was the photograph taken?

4. What can companion images tell us?

5. How was the photograph presented?

"Photos that changed the world": TEDTalk by Jonathan Klein, Chairman of Getty Images, a global digital media company

"Use art to turn the world inside out": TEDTalk by French street artist JR

→Want to participate in JR's Inside Out Project? First

 you need to organize a Group Action. Read how here.

ASSIGNMENT on documentary photography 

Do some research to find examples of documentary photography. Choose one with potential to increase social awareness of a specific social problem or injustice. Prepare to share your choice in class (hard copy or URL for online access). Use the following questions to guide you:

1. Who and/or what is in the photo?  

2. Where and when was the photo taken? By whom? 

3. Look at the composition of the photo. How are the elements arranged? Where is your eye drawn? 

4. What do you notice about the light? What time of day is it?

5. Is the photo in color or black and white? How does that affect your reaction to the photo? 

6. What is this photo trying to communicate?

7. Determine where the photographer was standing when s/he took the picture. Imagine how the meaning of the photo would change if the photographer had taken it from a different position.

8. How does this photo affect you? Consider why.

Above: Protesters march against the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota

Below: Photo documenting the Native American occupation of Alcatraz in 1969


The New York Times: Images from 4 years of "What's Going on in This Picture?"

"We declare the world our canvas": Street Art Utopia

Contemporary artist Sarah Mazzetti 

Contemporary artist LaToya M. Hobbs 

Contemporary artist Brian Rea

Contemporary movement artists Jon Boogs and Lil Buck, with installation artist Alexa Meade: "Color of Reality"

BBC documentary The Secret of Drawing"All in the Mind" (episode 3)

Yuko Shimizu, graphic artist

Japanese neo-pop artist Mr.: View some of his work here. Read a Huff Post article about him here.

Contemporary artist Beverly Buchanan's work: view here
Marcia G. Yermen's "Women in Art" interview with Beverly Buchanan: here

Khan Academy video on The Tribute Money by Masaccio

The Metropolitan Museum of Art on abstract expressionism here 
Hans Namuth film short: Pollock 51
Pollock's Mural, 1943: view here
Pollock's Autumn Rhythm 1950, view here
Pollock's Convergence, view here
WikiArt: Jackson Pollock
Examples of Janet Sobel's art here and here

Magic realism artist Paul Bond

David Griffin's TED Talk: "How Photography Connects Us"

Video with Thomas Joshua Cooper: Haunch of Venison

10 Questions for Annie Liebovitz (photographer)

Contemporary video artist Bill Viola, whose artistic expression uses electronic, sound, and image technology in New Media.

Interview with Bill Viola: "Cameras are soul keepers"

Artist Kiki Smith in PBS' Art 21 
"Basically, I think art is just a way to standing in the wind and letting it pull you in whatever direction it wants to go."

Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Susan Sontag on photography

The Motley View Journal of FilmAndré Bazin and the ontology of the photographic image

Jeff Wall (from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) on staged and straight photography

Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York

Brian Skerry Photography

Interested in exploring concepts of abstract expressionism via music? Get to know Morton Feldman: "American Sublime"

Depeche Mode: "Photographic"


Richard Beard, daguerreotypist [British, 1802 - 1888]


February 16, 1853


Daguerreotype, hand-colored

- See more at:



Make a free website with Yola