Critical Analysis of a Photograph

Critical Analysis of a Photograph

Topic/Photo due on Smartsite Assignments (~100 words; 10 points). Attach a .jpg of the photograph you plan to write about, and explain briefly where you found it and why you think it will make a good subject for an essay.
T May 5    Final Draft (double-spaced, printed single-sided, pages numbered).

Robert Coles, in “Doing Documentary Work,” argues that anyone doing “documentary work”—that is, attempting to represent actual people’s lives and events in as truthful a way as possible— whether they be writers, filmmakers, musicologists, psychologists, sociologists, or photographers, have to make choices about the subjects they represent. They must represent what is there, but they also have to decide which and how much to include, how to arrange, whether to add commentary, etc. And those choices may tell us something about the documentarian’s beliefs and values, and also about the values of the world that documentarian inhabits.
Photographers, for example, have to choose what to shoot (and what not to shoot), how to frame the subject, what kind of light, angle, focus, depth, etc. to employ. And then they choose how (or whether) to crop the image and where (and how) to publish the image. When the image is published, it appears in the context of other images, text, commentary that may add more meaning. All of which means that a given published photograph has layers of potential meaning.
Your task in this assignment is to choose a historically significant, published photograph and then write an essay in which you explore and reveal some of the layers of meaning that photograph contains.

1.    Carefully read both the Coles article, “Doing Documentary Work” Part Two, and the Tom Junod article, “Falling Man,” and consider the practical and ethical issues that these two pieces bring up.
2.    Choose a photograph, download it as a jpeg or other digital file, and submit it to Smartsite with your topic. (But please see the excluded photos—in the folder “Photos Not To Be Used” on Smartsite Resources)
3.    Analyze the photograph for its compositional qualities (see the discussion of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans photographs in the Coles essay): composition, framing, light, color, title, etc.
4.    Do some freewriting about your personal response to the photograph: How does it make you feel, and what does it make you think? What do you suppose the photographer had in mind when shooting it? When publishing it?
5.    Do some research to find out
•    who took the photo
•    under what circumstances
•    whether there are other versions of the photo available that you can look at, or other photographs in a series
•    where it was originally published, and what it’s publication history is
•    any commentary on the photograph
6.    While you are collecting this information, take notes, and freewrite your own responses to the information you find.
7.    Compare your photograph with those discussed in the Coles and Junod articles – do any similar pictorical, ethical, social, political, or historical controversies arise?

This essay should be a unified work, with a thesis, a clear organizational strategy, a conclusion, and a Works Cited list. In addition to these basic components, you are free to use subheadings, white space, and other “attractive formatting” (a la Trimble). You may consider “Falling Man” as a model. See also Susan Sontag’s discussion of war photography in “Looking at War,” and consider the student essay, “The Child With the Withered Hand” (Prized Writing 2011-2012, p. 36) as a possible model. Note that “The Falling Man” was originally published in Esquire Magazine in 2003; you may wish to write your essay with a similar audience and publication in mind.

Your source material for this assignment consists of
•    primary source – the photograph
•    your personal response to the photograph
•    outside research. There is no set number of sources; you must do enough research to answer the questions listed above. Be sure to take complete notes on each source – you will need author [if available], title, publisher, sponsoring organization, and original posting date of every source you use.

Be careful to avoid plagiarizing your sources; see the handout from Student Judicial Affairs that I hand out. Rely on a reputable reference guide to get the details of documentation correct. The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a good source:

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