Give us the real scoop!
By participating in this activity, students will become aware that viewer expectations influence the reading of an image. They will also gain understanding that captions influence how we perceive a picture, because the caption helps us pin down, or make sense of what we are looking at. Students will act as reporters and write "what, why, when, and where" captions to accompany photographs.
Note to teachers: Any image on the Picture This Web site may be utilized for this activity. Utilize the three sample images below first to get a sense of how the Be the Reporter activity works, and then choose as many of the images from the Picture This Web site as you would like. Images that are somewhat ambiguous work best.
Length of Activity: 45 minutes–1 hour
- pens or pencils, paper
- copy of local newspaper that contains photos with captions
- images from Picture This Web site
Divide the class into small work groups. Provide one image for each work group. (The members of each group will be writing about the same image.) Images should not have any captions accompanying them.
Tell your students that they are newspaper editors of the local paper and their job is to write a caption for the image and a brief story about what is happening in the photograph. Explain that newspaper captions usually include the "what, why, when, where, and how."
Show samples of captions to your students from the local newspaper. If you can find stories about children and youth that would especially appeal to your students then use those as samples. Make sure each work group has one image, and that each students has paper and a pen or pencil. Ask the students to try to determine what is happening in the photograph, and to write a caption about it.
Allow 15–20 minutes for students to write down their interpretations.
Ask students to share their "stories" with the rest of the class. Pick a couple of students from each group, so the class can see how different people may have different ideas about the same image. After students have shared some of their ideas, guide a group discussion with questions like:
- Why do you think different people have different ideas about what is happening in the same picture? (Our life experiences, opinions, and other preferences influence how we interpret images.)
- Does placing a caption by a picture influence what we think about what is happening in the photograph?
After adequate discussion, read the caption provided for the image on the Picture This Web site. (See below.) You may simply state, "This is the caption that is provided about the image." In your discussion, do not refer to the caption provided as the "right" one.
Make sure you emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers - all interpretations are valid. This exercise demonstrates that photographs can have many different meanings to different people, and that the meaning of a photograph is not self evident.
Click on the images above to read their captions.
- Caption: the short title or description that accompanies images or illustrations.
- Context: the setting, situation, background, or environment in which something appears. Contexts for photographs include newspapers, print advertisements, galleries, and museums.
- Point of view: place from which, or way in which something is viewed or considered, placement of a camera, a viewpoint from which a story is narrated, a mental attitude or opinion.
- Interpret: to explain the meaning of, make understandable, to give one's own conception of a work of art.
Credit: The idea for this activity was inspired by the book, Another Way of Telling, by John Berger and Jean Mohr. Published by Pantheon Books, New York, 1982.