J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department
About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Lesson Plan
One-Pager: Analysis of Dorothea Lange’s Photographs
Grades: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: History-Social Science
Time Required: 1–2 class periods and 1–2 hours of homework
Author: Linda Harris, A.P. U.S. History Teacher, Fairfax Senior High School Magnet Center for Visual Arts. Los Angeles, with J. Paul Getty Museum Staff
Students analyze one of Dorothea Lange’s photographs and make connections to its historical context by creating a one-page written and visual response.
Featured Getty Artwork
White Angel Bread Line, San Francisco by Dorothea Lange
Human Erosion in California/Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California by Dorothea Lange
Dust Bowl Refugees Arrive in California, California by Dorothea Lange
Stoop Labor in Cotton Field, San Joaquin Valley, California by Dorothea Lange
- Students will analyze a photograph and translate that analysis into words and pictures.
- Students will understand and be able to explain the historical impact of photographs.
- Students will create a visual composition based on a photograph.
Note: Students should have covered 1930s American History in class before this lesson.
- Instruction sheet for “One-Pager” (see attached)
- photocopies of Lange’s images
1. Select one or more of the Lange photographs to show the students and discuss in class.
2. Ask students questions to help them look carefully at the photograph on three levels. You may choose to print these questions out on a worksheet so the students can answer the questions on their own before opening up a class discussion.
Level I: (just state the facts)
a. Describe the colors, lines, shapes, texture, and space you see in the image.
b. What do you notice first in this picture? Where is your eye led?
c. How many faces do you see?
d. What are the people wearing? How are they posed?
e. Where are their hands resting?
f. Are you looking up or down at the people in the image?
g. When was this picture made?
Level II: (begin to analyze and interpret)
In your opinion,
a. What are the people in the photograph looking at?
b. What are the expressions on their faces?
c. What are they thinking?
d. At what time of day might the photograph have been taken?
e. Where was the photograph taken?
f. What do you think they are doing?
Level III: (connect the image to historical context)
Based on what you know about the 1930s,
a. Who are the people in the photograph?
b. What message do you think the photographer was trying to convey?
c. What is the situation of the people depicted? Point out some visual elements in the photograph that tell you about their situation.
d. If possible, how would you help the people in this photograph?
e. Might a photograph of this nature be made today? Why or why not?
f. What alternative title would you give this photograph?
3. Students share their answers and the alternative titles they give to the photograph with the class.
4. Hand out summary descriptions of the photograph(s) and read aloud. Discuss the role of photography and photographers in the United States of the 1930s.
- Why did Lange take these photographs?
- Why were artists given jobs by the government as part of the New Deal?
- These images, and many like them, were published in the 1930s in newspapers and magazines. What kind of effect do you think they had on the public?
5. Distribute and explain instructions for the “One-Pager” (see attached). You may want to prepare a One-Pager of your own as a model. Students will use this creative exercise to express their interpretation of the effects that the events of the 1930s had on society.
6. Students choose one of the images by Dorothea Lange and begin composing a One-Pager in class, completing it for homework. You can determine how much time the students need to create a quality product based on ability and age level.
Visual Analysis—Students should be able to make statements on all three levels of analysis:
- Factual: Students should be able to describe at least one visual element in the photograph.
- Analytical: Students should be able to make a statement interpreting meaning in the image and support that statement with factual evidence in the image.
- Contextual: Students should be able to make a connection between meaning in the photograph and the historical events occurring during the time it was created.
One-Pager—Students should be able to use visual and textual metaphors to interpret the chosen photograph, communicate their interpretation to their audience, and make connections to the history of the 1930s.
- Have each student analyze another’s One-Pager and write an essay comparing the peer’s composition to his or her own.
- A One-Pager may be adapted to reading and analyzing written material.
Common Core Standards for English Language Arts
Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
SPEAKING AND LISTENING
Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
History-Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools
Historical and Social-Science Analysis Skills
1. Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place.
Historical and Social-Science Analysis Skills
3. Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.
U.S. History and Geography: Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century
(Lesson addresses aspects of the following)
11.6.3–Discuss the human toll of the Depression, natural disasters, and unwise agricultural practices and their effects on the depopulation of rural regions and on political movements of the left and right, with particular attention to the Dust Bowl refugees and their social and economic impacts in California.
11.6.4–Analyze the effects of and the controversies arising from the New Deal economic policies and the expanded role of the federal government in society and the economy since the 1930s (e.g., Works Progress Administration, Social Security, National Labor Relations board, farm programs, regional development policies, and energy development projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, California Central Valley Project, and Bonneville Dam).
Visual-Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
1.5–Analyze materials used by a given artist and describe how their use influences the meaning of the work.
Grades 9–12 Advanced
2.3–Demonstrate in their visual artwork a personal style and an advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion.
2.4–Use innovative visual metaphors in creating artworks.
Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929–1945)
1b. The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s.
A One-Pager is a single-page response to your viewing and analysis of one of Dorothea Lange’s photographs. The One-Pager exercise should help you become more fully aware of your own unique understanding of that photograph and the historical period in which it was created.
Imagine the story surrounding the Dorothea Lange image you have selected and use the One-Pager to explain how the image expresses the human toll of the events of the 1930s. Be creative and experimental.
- Choose one of Dorothea Lange’s photographs.
- Center the Dorothea Lange image on unlined paper.
- Around the Lange image make a collage using colored pens, pencils, crayons, markers, etc., and incorporate drawings, images cut from magazines, and/or words that express your dominant impressions, feelings, or thoughts regarding what you have viewed and analyzed.
1. The Dorothea Lange image as your central focus.
2. Title: Come up with your own title for the image you have viewed and analyzed. The title should clearly express themes from the 1930s.
3. Make sure to include elements that interpret the image on three levels:
- just the facts—what you actually see in the image
- your analysis or interpretation of what you see in the image
- the photograph’s connection to the history of the 1930s
4. Include, in words or with pictures, thoughts about how audiences in the 1930s might have responded to the image.
5. Include one or two questions you have about the picture.
Your One-Pager should explain your thinking about what you have viewed and analyzed and should clearly express your understanding of the history around the photograph. The more visually appealing it is, the more your peers can learn from your collage.
© 2002 J. Paul Getty Trust
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