Hampstead School / Liane Harris / Visual Literacy activities

Activity: Hidden Identity


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How out of focus/hidden do we need to be before we are unrecognizable?

What makes us, us? What are the signifiers?

Materials needed:

  • A Variety a translucent/semi-transparent material such as:
  1. Frosted plastic Card A3 or larger (Paperchase)
  2. Bubble wrap
  3. Material mesh, muslin
  4. Pizza pan with air vents…etc.
  • PowerPoint
  • Cameras


  • PowerPoint illustrating how we can identify people without having to see their faces
  • Shopping/collecting a variety of materials listed above (and trying out shots of self to see how well they work).
  • Photographers to use as examples: Bill Armstrong, David Ryle, Tinca Veerman, Miaz Brothers, Ralph Eugene Meatyard


a) Show PowerPoint beginning with Bill Armstrong’s out of focus photograph of the Queen. Who is this? How do we know? Discuss.

b) In Pairs – each pair gets a camera. Ours are DSLRs so I have students set focusing to manual. I also have them use Aperture Priority, small f-stop, high ISO, 55mm on the zoom (no zooming allowed).

c) Students are asked to:

  • Take a series of portraits of each other
  • Only shoot head and shoulders (pay attention to framing)
  • Try out all the different materials on offer
  • Make sure no hands are in the frame (e.g. when the subject is holding the material in front of their face). Pay attention to the framing.
  • Try focusing on the material in front of the face
  • Try focusing on the face first, and then have your partner (the subject)  hold up the material
  • Take some photos of you partner without any materials. at varying degrees of focus

d) Students to upload, choose 4 favourites and put in edit file. (Images to be printed out on A4 to be shown to class for next session (or shown in a PPT).

e) For next session, students asked to bring in at least 4 objects from home that are important to them and say something about who they are. They are given over 10 examples such as, jewellery, family snaps, clothing etc. Objects should be small enough to fit on A2 paper.


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