LESSON

Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice | Affirming Our Commonalities and Differences

In this lesson, students will analyze photographs that show people with different abilities and of different ages to explore assumptions about ability, age and activism. This is part of the Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice series.
Grade Level

Objectives

Activities will help students:

  • explore ways in which people are alike and ways in which they are different
  • analyze photographs that show people with different abilities and of different ages
  • question stereotypes about ability and age
  • recognize that photographs are socially constructed representations of reality
  • explain how a photograph’s construction can shape a viewer’s reaction to it
Essential Questions
  • In what ways are people alike? In what ways are they different?
  • How can photographs challenge stereotypes?
  • How do photographs show activism and activists?

Introduction

Photos can inspire people to think about things in new ways. One way is to show people working to bring about change. Another is to show images that contradict our expectations. That can make us examine stereotypes we might have accepted without thinking about them.

 

Photograph A

Abilities and Disabilities

Complete the following activities as part of a group of four. Sit around a table. For each activity, go around the circle at least once so that each person contributes to each step of the process.

Photograph A

 

1. (Note: Give each group a piece of chart paper, and ask each group to pick one student to be the reporter). Look at photo A. Take turns saying something that you see in the photo. Don’t analyze it at this stage; just say what you see, such as “a man is standing up and speaking into a bullhorn.” Have the reporter write down each student’s comments. Go around the table three times quickly so that you’ve got a thorough description of the photograph.

2. How does the photo make you feel? Go around the table and have everyone answer the question, explaining what it is in the photo that evokes those feelings. 

3. What can you infer from what you’ve seen? For example, in what setting do you think the photograph was taken? Why do you think so? What, if anything, do you think the people in the photo have in common? Why do you think so? What do you think the photographer was aiming to show? To answer this last question, imagine some other shot the photographer might have taken at the same event, and how that other shot might affect viewers like you.

4. The caption (which you’ll read in a minute) says that the picture shows “many [people] with disabilities.” With your group, point out which people you believe have disabilities and which people don’t. Then read the caption. Does it change your thinking about who has a disability and who doesn’t?

5. Photographers don’t just record reality. They mediate it. That means that they are someplace—in this case at a rally—and they act as a go-between, showing people who aren’t there a bit of what was going on. The decisions they make affect people’s perceptions. With your group, explore different pictures the photographer might have taken. Begin by cutting out a picture frame from a piece of paper. Place it in different ways on the photo to see what it would look like if the photographer had made other choices. For example, what if he took a photo that only had in it the woman in the front-center holding the sign that says “BUDGET CUTS MEAN I SIT AT HOME”? How would such a photo affect you? What if he took a close-up of just her face, without the sign or any indication that she is sitting in a wheelchair? Try this with different parts of the photograph.

Caption for photo A: Roy R. Lippin, traumatic brain-injury victim and a member of the New Jersey Council on Traumatic Brain Injury, shouts in a bullhorn as a large group, many with disabilities, some in wheelchairs, gathers in front of the New Jersey Statehouse Thursday, May 14, 2009, in Trenton, N.J., to denounce budget cuts to five independent living centers. 

 

Photographs B & C

Age and Ability

Continue working with your group. Follow the same procedure as you examine the next two photos.

Photo B: (PhotoLink)

 

Photo C: (LWA/Dann Tardif)

 

1. Look at photo B. Go around the table taking turns filling in these characteristics of the person in the photo. Keep in mind that the photo might not contain all the information.

a. Sex:

b. Race:

c. Ethnicity:

d. Religion:

e. Ability:

f. Age:

Do the same for photo C.

a. Sex:

b. Race:

c. Ethnicity:

d. Religion:

e. Ability:

f. Age:

2. What stereotypes have you heard about age? Go around your table and say them. They may be stereotypes that you’ve heard about people your age or about people in other age groups. What stereotypes do these photos contradict? How do they do so?

 

Conclusions

Look at all three photographs together. Think about these questions: In what ways are people alike? In what ways are they different? Complete the three-way Venn diagram with one circle representing each photograph. Fill in the ways that the people in the photos are alike and the ways they differ.

How would you, as a photographer, show age and ability, as well as similarities and differences? If you have access to a camera, take a photo that could be part of this lesson. If you don’t have access to a camera, plan the photo and describe it. Whichever path you choose, write an explanation of what your photo shows regarding age, ability, similarity and difference.