Claire Collison / Visual Literacy activities / Westminster Academy

Activity: Truths and Untruths: A picture never lies?

This activity by Claire Collison explores how much we rely on the written word, and how, when writing is present, we ‘read’ photographs as evidence, illustrating stories, true or otherwise.

Activity – Truths and Untruths: A picture never lies?

 

Using photographs students had taken of their own homes, we explored what happens if information is given alongside an image.

I have noticed how much students rely on the captions alongside an image, when these are available. I wanted them to explore how much they invested in the written word, and to see if the information that came with an image could change their reaction to the image.

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 painting by Vincent van Gogh

We began by using John Berger’s example in Ways of Seeing: I showed students the Vincent van Gogh painting, Wheat Field With Crows and asked for their responses to it. I then read them the following statement: “This is the last picture Van Gogh painted before he killed himself.”

We discussed how this had changed their feelings to the painting – in every case, it had.

Activity 

You will need:

Students will each need to bring copies of a personal photograph. (For the purpose of this exercise, ones that do not feature people are particularly effective: a room in their home, or the view from a window, or outside on the street nearby. Resolution and composition are less important than content: these can be taken on a phone, and printed A4.)

Arseniy statement

How to:

Students are asked to write down two statements about their photograph: One of the statements should be true, the other untrue (but each equally feasible)*

The students then take turns to show their photographs and to read their two ‘facts’.

The rest of the class has to decide, without asking any questions, but using the photograph, which of the statements is the true one.

The author then reveals which is in fact true.

*It is important that students understand they will be sharing these statements, and for them to be comfortable with disclosing which is true.

Two example statements:

1. I spend a lot of time lying on the bed.

2. I was making this photo in school uniform.

Outcomes/ Learning objectives:

This aims to open a discussion on how much we rely on the written word, and how, when writing is present, we ‘read’ photographs as evidence, illustrating stories, true or otherwise.

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