A Photo Teacher |

Selected Frames | Considering Photographs

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



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

John Humble – Los Angeles Cibachromes at the Joseph Bellows Gallery

The Stories They Tell: A Hundred Years of Photography at the Museum of Photographic Art

John Brinton Hogan – Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes at the Mesa College Art Gallery

Black Life: Images of Resistance and Resilience in Southern California at the San Diego Museum of Art

Luis González Palma – Constructed Mythologies at the San Diego State Downtown Gallery

Graciela Iturbide and Manuel Álvarez Bravo – México quiero conocerte at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Downtown


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


Examples of critical exhibition reviews can be found at: Collector Daily

The critical exhibition review is required to include the following discussion:


Brief Introduction

Introduce the exhibition, including the photographer’s name, the title of the exhibition, the dates.

Provide a listing of the following:

  • Number of photographs | photographic works
  • Scale | Size of works
  • Processes Used | Types of Prints

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.



Describe and discuss the exhibition and photographs 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 Photographs Look

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 exhibition and photographs 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 exhibition 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 photographs in the exhibiton were made and what it is about?

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

Does it reinforce or disrupt preconceptions?

What purpose does it serve?

What is satisfying and dissatisfying about the exhibition and/or photographs?

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 exhibition and photographs in terms of its’ effectiveness in communicating the intended idea and meaning, including the conceptual framework of the exhibition 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 in the exhibition 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 do the photographs in the exhibition compare and/or contrast with similar images in other media?

What do others have to say about the photographer’s work in general?


Brief Conclusion

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



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

Brief Introduction




Brief Conclusion


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



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