Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Examining Photographs: "Migrant Mother"

Cover Image via

Analyzing Photographs
In previous posts, I have identified resources that help students analyze images through the lens of media literacy. A recent NPR Morning Edition interview with the author of the new book Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits reminded me of the powerful role photography has played in the American Psyche. This point is best explained by the author, Linda Gordon, who states:

"Most of Lange's photography was optimistic, even utopian, not despite but precisely through its frequent depictions of sadness and deprivation. By showing her subjects as worthier than their conditions, she called attention to the incompleteness of American democracy. And by showing her subjects as worthier than their conditions, she simultaneously asserted that greater democracy was possible" (excerpt from Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits available online at NPR).

Photographs related to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl provide powerful images from an important period in U.S. history. Two of my elementary social studies methods students are currently developing a unit related to these images, and I thought I would share some resources and strategies I suggested that they consider for one of their lessons.

Using the Reader-Generated Questions Technique
One of Lange's most recognized photographs from the Dust Bowl is titled "Migrant Mother." This image provides a perfect opportunity for a technique often called "Reader-Generated Questions."

1. Pose Questions First, students can view the image and create simple questions (e.g., who, when, where, why).

2. Make Predictions
Next, students can make predictions that answer their questions.

3. Find Answers
Finally, students analyze a source the provides information related to the image. In this case, students could analyze excerpts from an interview with the photographer (Dorothea Lange) or the mother in the photograph (Florence Thompson).

The purpose of this activity is to have students create the questions they answer. Better yet, students may not find the answers to all of their questions in one source and will have to consider the types of sources they could consult to find out more information.