A Photo Teacher |

Selected Frames | Considering A Photograph

Posted in PHOT 154 by Paul Turounet on July 23, 2010


Since its invention, photography has been the world’s ubiquitous picture-making system.  It has in the process effected a profound transformation of our knowledge and opinions concerning the structure and meaning of visual experience.

– John Szarkowski, from the Introduction to Looking At Photographs



Select a published photograph or a photograph by a photographer discussed in the textbook, Photography – A Cultural History, and write a critical inquiry | analysis of the image.  Additional research on the photograph should be conducted, including viewing photographs at area museums | galleries, looking at photographer monographs and photography-related websites, including Inside The Digital Vault – Photographic Archives, Collections, Blogs and the Social Discourse of Photography.


Write a critical review of one of the following exhibitions (you’ll need to include an image of yourself at the exhibition):

India and the Picturesque at the Museum of Photographic Arts

Prix Pictet: Disorder at the Museum of Photographic Arts

Melissa Shook – Daily Self-Portraits at the Joseph Bellows Gallery

Compelled by Color at the San Diego Museum of Art

Duncan McCosker at the University of San Diego – Fine Art Galleries, Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice

Exploring Contemporary Photography at Grossmont College with the Medium Festival of Photography

March 16 and 23 as well as April 6 and 13

Room 20-103 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm


If you’re interested in visiting a gallery or museum for the Exhibition Critical Review, you may want to look at Photograph Magazine for the current listing of exhibitions.


The critical inquiry | analysis or critical review should include the following discussion:


Brief Introduction

Introduce the photograph, including the photographer’s name, the title of the work, the date, processes used, and any other appropriate background information.

Discuss the photographers work in general as well as mention significant aspects of the historical and cultural context in which the photographer worked.

Discuss important technical aspects, such as equipment and/or processes used, that contribute to an understanding of the photograph from a descriptive and interpretive context.

For Critical Review Only

If you’re writing a critical review, include the number of works in the exhibition and sizes of the works. (see formatting style on the Collector Daily – example: Thomas Roma: In the Vale of Cashmere @ Stephen Kasher – including JTF – just the facts).



Describe and discuss the photograph in terms of the formal considerations that inform how the image looks and reveals content | subject matter, including the aesthetic considerations discussed in Beyond The Surface | Thinking About Photographs and Seeing Photographs. The discussion should focus attention on how the use of these aesthetic considerations contribute to the interpretive possibilities of the photograph.  Specifically address the following considerations:


Content | Subject Matter

What is photographed, genre of photography, the circumstances in which the photograph was made and the particular details that inform the nature of the thing itself (keep in mind that the thing itself and the subject matter are two different considerations).

How the Photograph Looks

Aesthetic considerations (use of frame | compositional balance | use of line, shapes, volume | description of texture) | vantage point and point of view | moment of exposure).

Visual considerations (color, grayscale (black and white) and/or an alternative visual sensibility such as a collage or montage | light or dark | flat or contrasty).

Use of light (type of lighting | quality of lighting).

Scale and presentation considerations.



Discuss what concerns, ideas, and/or curiosities the photograph reveal, suggest and/or imply to you, including emotional, psychological, historical, sociological, cultural implications and considerations, so as to begin to understand its meaning.

What is the photograph about?

What does it represent or express?

How did it come to be?

Within what tradition / movement does it belong?

Are there references that inform how the photograph was made and what it is about?

How has psychological, historical, sociological and/or cultural contexts shaped its’ creation and your reading of the photograph?

Does it reinforce or disrupt preconceptions?

What purpose does it serve?

What is satisfying and dissatisfying about the photograph?

Are there moral, ethical, gender, identity and/or cultural issues and concerns to consider?

What does it mean to you?

Does it change my view of something?



Evaluate the photograph in terms of its’ effectiveness in communicating the intended idea and meaning, including the conceptual framework of the photograph and the visual language used (use of aesthetic considerations as well as level of technical execution and/or presentation).  It is important to develop persuasive support and argument for your critical judgments.

What criteria will be used to evaluate the work?  (art theories including realism, expressionism, formalism or instrumentalism)

Realism – to accurately portray the thing itself that affirms a means of discovery and proposing new ways to see the world.

Expressionism – individuality of the artist to portray the intensity of their feelings, experience and/or emotions.

Formalism – upholds the importance of formal considerations and not the judgment of narrative content, psychological associations or the imitation of objects.

Instrumentalism – art is in the service of causes that reflects social content and insists that art is subservient to, rather than independent of, social concerns.

Does the photographs’ aesthetic considerations, presentation and technical execution support its intended meaning?

If the work seeks to inform and influence social awareness and change, is it effective?

Does it unwittingly or intentionally cause social harm?

Is this a good use of photography to communicate the intended meaning?

How does the photograph compare and/or contrast with similar images in other media?

What do others have to say about the photograph and/or the photographer’s work in general?


Brief Conclusion

Summarize your overall critical inquiry and examination of the photograph, including what lasting impression(s) the photograph has made.




List all materials referenced in the critical inquiry | analysis, including websites, books and articles used.  Include a photocopy of the photograph.



Write a critical inquiry | analysis of a photograph that addresses thorough discussion of the following:

Brief Introduction




Brief Conclusion



The critical inquiry | analysis is required to be typed and turned-in by the due date listed on the course calendar.



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