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Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum

A multidisciplinary resource for middle and high school teachers to use photographs and photographic ephemera to convey content and teach visual analysis skills.

A multidisciplinary professional development course for middle and high school teachers in English language arts, social studies, mathematics and science; 5 video programs; 11 curated photo collections with background text, classroom activities, and additional resources.

A multidisciplinary resource for middle and high school teachers, Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum seeks to inspire teachers to use photographs and photographic ephemera with their teaching, and provides practical methods to facilitate the use of these materials in classroom settings across disciplines. Essential Lens introduces teachers to the richness of photographs as curricular tools. The course resources include five videos that introduce the ways photographic images impact our lives and what we know about the world and its history. On the course website, 11 curated photo collections with more than 250 rights-cleared photographs for classroom use include background information and detailed thematic classroom activity plans. Essential Lens provides everything a teacher needs to begin using photographs to engage students in deeper understanding and learning of a range of subjects from history to biology.

Why Photographs?

 “Young Learners are visually oriented, so it’s clear that photographs offer teachers a real opportunity. Beyond giving detail, depth, and context to each course of study where they are deployed, these images draw students in, excite them, and carry a lot of the pedagogic load.”
Essential Lens Advisor, Gary Nash, Ph.D. UCLA, Emeritus
Past Director, National Center for History in the Schools (1996–2012)

Since its invention in the early 1800s, photography has fascinated us (see A Brief History of Photography). Photographs have changed the way we see ourselves — and the world. Whether a creative expression, a captured moment, or a deliberate document of a time, place, or event, images give us a way to see things we may otherwise not see — especially if we take the time to look closely. Take historical or microscopic photographs, underwater photos, or pictures from space. In all cases, they allow for individual interpretation and discovery. Photographs also contribute to our memory of the past, because we often remember them visually. By taking time to look more closely at a photograph and analyze all of its features and attributes, the opportunity for deeper engagement and understanding exists. Photographer Louie Palu notes in the video Witness: “A lot of people say a photograph is worth a thousand words. I like to think of a photograph as being worth a thousand questions. And what those questions spur is a thousand conversations.“ Photographs continue to fascinate us, whether it is a historical photo, a new discovery, or the one we took today.

Why Essential Lens?

Frances Benjamin Johnston with group of children looking at her camera. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-120447)

A multidisciplinary resource for middle and high school teachers, Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum seeks to inspire teachers to use photographs and photographic ephemera with their teaching, and provides practical methods to facilitate the use of these materials in classroom settings across disciplines. Teachers acknowledge the value of photographs and other media resources for providing students with multiple access points to understanding course content.

We live in a world where photographic images of all kinds are available at our fingertips. Essential Lens, however, seeks to provide collections of authentic images that are copyright cleared, along with analytical tools for teachers. This will help students gain an awareness of the multiple contexts, interpretations, and implications of photographic production, dissemination, and display.

Offering users one platform through which to access all resources and tools (videos, curriculum, photo archive, and additional features), Essential Lens relieves teacher time by addressing concerns about copyright and usage issues, while building professional knowledge and awareness of image resources, and how those images can be used and analyzed to encourage deeper learning.

The primary goals of Essential Lens are to:

  • Inspire teachers and students to value photographs, photographic ephemera, and digital images to enhance student experience and learning.
  • Build teachers’ and students’ confidence in analyzing and contextualizing photographs.
  • Empower teachers to guide students’ use of photographs as evidence.
  • Enable teachers to research and identify photographic resources for further use.

Essential Lens introduces teachers to the richness of photographs as curricular tools. Concise background information and detailed thematic classroom activity plans support a variety of student interactions with photographs and photographic ephemera. A guide to researching photographs and a glossary provide further support for curricular planning.

Because of the increasing role of photographic images in our everyday lives, as well as the ever-growing number of images available online, more teachers are seeking ways to integrate images into their curricula; however, they often face challenges in identifying, selecting and integrating them into lessons and activities. This resource helps teachers overcome barriers to using photographs, including:

  • Lack of time to create new teaching materials that use new technology
  • Lack of knowledge and awareness of existing digital image collections, and how the collection or its individual images can be used
  • Complexities with navigating and identifying authentic and quality source materials
  • Lack of clear copyright and usage notices

Developed in response to such barriers, Essential Lens has gathered experts in the fields of science, history, literature, and photography, and created this multimedia resource that includes:

How to Use This Resource

  1. Start with the videos. Learn first-hand about the many ways photographic images impact and inform what we know about our world. Begin by watching A Closer Look. This video includes teachers, and it models and describes how to analyze photos, think about students’ interactions with photographs, and integrate photographs into the classroom.
  2. Follow up your viewing of A Closer Look by using the Focus In feature. Interact with this step-by-step application of the analytical framework demonstrated in A Closer Look by using a select set of images from the collections.
  3. As you work with the collection activities and the photographs, notice how the learning targets and guiding questions help enhance students’ understanding of the subject you are teaching. Each collection activity may be used in its entirety or modified to fit with your existing lessons. The direction provided with each photo-enhanced activity was developed to help students think about the photographs and meet the learning target(s). Your students may learn better with these photos if you tailor the activity to fit your setting, context, and students’ needs.  

    All photos in the online and print version of the collections, and in the online archive have been cleared for classroom use only. You will be asked to agree to these terms before downloading a collection PDF. Note: While images can be saved in many formats, the photographs in the Essential Lens course are available for download as PDF files in the appendix of the collections (print version). If using the activities as written, note that each is accompanied by specific instructions for using the photograph(s) with students, however there is some flexibility built into each activity. For example, an activity may suggest that you print out photos and distribute them to your students. However if printing is not possible or desirable in your classroom, you can project images on an overhead and proceed. All photographs in the collections and the online archive are accompanied by caption and metadata information, such as the location, date, and source of the image (if known). Some activities require students to read the caption information before proceeding, while others ask students to first observe what is in the photo and share what they see before they read the caption information (see Focus In). For the latter, you will need to crop out the caption. If in print, you can use scissors to cut the caption off before handing out to students. To project the image on an overhead without the caption, go to the Essential Lens archive, and click on the image to enlarge it. The enlarged image does not include the caption. Though students are used to looking at images, they might not be in the habit of examining them critically. It may be helpful for you to begin the conversation and raise questions that set the tone or direction for the discussion. Note that the collections include student prompts to help guide discussion. Keep in mind that photographs, which often depict scenes from real life, can sometimes be difficult to understand, contain disturbing imagery, or provoke visceral reactions. Students may also lack adequate context or vocabulary to interpret photos. Establish ground rules for discussion. Emphasize that as they look at an image, students should attempt to describe what they see, rather than interpret—at least at first. Remind them that each person who sees a photo is likely to have a unique perspective on and personal reaction to it. As in all classroom discussions, students should be open to hearing different opinions and be respectful of one another. Each collection is accompanied by a complete list of references and further resources.
  4. Explore the Essential Lens website for additional support materials. For example, browse the Archive to find photographs that will work with your classroom needs. Or check out the Guide to Researching Photos, and the Additional Photograph Resources for information on finding and using photographs with students.

Course Components

Collections with Classroom Activities

Each collection is a self-contained series of lesson activities that guide students’ thinking and, at the core, promotes critical thinking. The collections may be used in their entirety or tailored to fit with teachers’ existing lessons.

Each activity includes:

  • Background on the topic for teachers
  • Essential questions and key learning targets
  • Photographs that have been vetted and are ready to use in the classroom
  • Extension activities for students
  • Questions to consider and other student prompts to promote classroom discussion, and tips for teaching with and analyzing photographs
  • Additional resources for clarification and further study

The collections were not developed to be comprehensive. Rather, they are a model for how to best incorporate photographs into teaching strategies. They are focused and thematic explorations of photography’s contributions to a particular historical, social, and scientific area. The collections illustrate photography’s instrumental use as evidence and suggest how photography has the unique capacity to expand our knowledge. Background information for the collections informs teachers about the content and allows students to be ready to examine the photographs and understand what they are observing.


The Butterfly Nebula (NASA/ESA/Hubble)

Five videos introduce users to the ways photographic images impact our lives and what we know about the world and its history. Watch A Closer Look first, as it provides the basis for further study, and includes teachers practicing the Focus In method of analyzing photographs.

A Closer Look follows Dr. Makeda Best as she works with teachers, modeling the step-by-step Focus In method for analyzing photographs. Dr. Best helps teachers think about students’ interactions with photographs, and demonstrates prompts for engaging students and integrating photographs into the classroom. A Closer Look is a helpful video to view first, as it provides the basis for further study.

WitnessLivesEvidence, and Story offer rare glimpses into the inspirations, processes, careers, and perspectives of individuals from a range of fields that extensively use photography in their professional work. Compelling onsite interviews illustrate the impact of photography on individuals, societies, knowledge, and the course of history and science.

Focus In Feature

The Focus In feature outlines a step-by-step process for analyzing photographic images by using select photographs from the collections. Complementing the A Closer Look video, Focus In explains analytical concepts, and demonstrates key vocabulary through detailed discussion of specific aspects of selected photographs. It provides a strategy for examining a photograph by looking closely at particular areas of the image. Students learn to observe, follow up, make inferences, and ask questions by using a photograph from each of the 12 collections. The skill and thinking needed for this type of analysis is transferable when focusing in on other images and sources.


All of the images from the collection activities, and select images from the videos, are available in a searchable archive. All images are copyright cleared and ready to use in the classroom. The archive can be searched by collection, video, key terms, or specific archive item numbers.


Essential Lens includes a glossary of key photographic terms. Teachers can refer to the glossary as they use the Essential Lens resources. In the classroom, teachers can introduce these terms to build student vocabulary and descriptive skills.

Guide to Researching Photos

The guide includes researching tips for making the best use of online collections from a variety of sources, and also a primer for clearing rights and using photographs in the classroom.

Additional Photograph Resources

Essential Lens has gathered a comprehensive list of online sources with vetted and ready-to-use photographs for educational use. These sites help educators who seek quality, copyright-friendly materials, as well as additional educational materials. Most of the resources listed provide copyright-free or public domain materials.

Individual Video Descriptions

A Closer Look
This introduction to the course models the process of analyzing photographs with teachers and students. Photography historian Makeda Best discusses the Focus In method with teachers, and educator Julie Keefe employs the method with students at a photography exhibit on “light and dark.” Photography curator at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan discusses how she carefully selects a set of photographs to tell a larger story.

Photographs bear witness to world events and help us to learn more about people, places, and situations — historical and present day. Middle school teacher Donald Rose guides students in analyzing photos from school integration movements of the 1960s. Documentary film producer Ken Burns weaves photographs into historical narratives to bring the past to life. Photojournalist Louie Palu’s photos take us deep into mines and war zones, and engage us with the individuals who take on those tasks.

Lives explores the story of human resilience and perseverance. Middle school teacher Donald Rose uses the Migrant Mother photos by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange to help students understand what elements a photographer chooses to focus on to create the greatest impact. Historian Linda Gordon, biographer of FSA photographer Dorothea Lange reveals Lange’s role in engaging Americans in the plight of those who were most devastated. New Orleans documentary photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick talk about the transformation of their photographs after Hurricane Katrina and working with young photographers to preserve the city’s cultural heritage.

An image can show us otherwise invisible processes, previously undiscovered life forms, and dramatic change over time. High school teacher Rima Givot engages her students with highly magnified photos of mouse muscle to study genetically modified organisms. Scientist and photomicrographer Dennis Kunkel demonstrates the fascinating process of creating photographs of the microscopic world. Environmental photographer Gary Braasch reports on his worldwide travels to document the state of the planet through repeat photography.

Every photograph tells a story: of struggle, of beauty, of community and culture. Social studies teacher Kim Kanof uses photos from the Protests and Politics collection to teach about protests around in the world in 1968. National Geographic photo editor Pamela Chen details the collaborative process of creating photo-based feature stories with design director David Whitmore. Iowa photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier discusses his work documenting the residents and images of marginalized communities across the United States.

The Collections at a Glance

To download this collection, you must agree to the following terms:
Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”
-John Berger, Ways of Seeing

The collections illustrate photography’s instrumental use as evidence and data, and their unique capacity to expand our knowledge of any subject taught.

Each collection includes a series of relevant photographs, background information on the topic, and classroom activities that model how to best incorporate photographs into teaching strategies. You can see a teacher teaching a related activity from the collections in the WitnessLivesEvidence and Story videos.

The collections may be used in their entirety or tailored to fit with teachers’ existing lessons.

Change and Resistance: Civil Rights Movements Across the Nation

The Civil Rights Era is often taught with a focus on people and events in the southern region of the United States. While the collection explores the African American equality movement through the lens of school integration, it also offers ways to consider the unique, but related, struggles of additional groups: Chicanos, women, and Native Americans.

Classroom Connection
Social Studies, U.S. History, Literature, and English Language Arts

Curriculum Snapshot

  • School integration and the demand for educational reform: Little Rock, Boston, and Los Angeles
  • Voices of change and the use of argument: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Malcolm X’s The Ballot or the Bullet speech, the National Organization for Women’s Statement of Purpose, and the Alcatraz Red Power Movement’s Alcatraz Proclamation

Processes of Science: Mars, a Case Study

This collection is unique in that, through the investigation of water on Mars, it illustrates selected parts of the NGSS goals for understanding the nature of science and the processes of science and engineering. The collection illustrates how photographs are an essential data source for scientific investigation of remote and inaccessible locations.

Classroom Connection
Earth and Space Science, Engineering

Curriculum Snapshot

  • The nature and processes of science: what scientists and engineers do and how they do it
  • Using photographs to study inaccessible locations such as Mars

Immigration, Urbanization, and Identity: The Progressive Era City

As the promise of factory jobs and higher wages attracted more and more people into the cities, the United States began to shift to a nation of city dwellers. By 1900, 30 million people lived in cities.

Within the cities, enclaves of immigrants created tight-knit communities based on their common culture. Photographers such as Jacob Riis and Louis Hine were able to capture some of the domestic scenes of children and their families, which showed that while life certainly was not easy, there was still a sense of community and pride.

Classroom Connection
Social Studies, U.S. History, Literature, and English Language Arts

Curriculum Snapshot

  • The rapid urbanization caused by waves of immigrants coming from eastern and southern Europe, as well as from China, from the 1880s–1920s
  • Child labor practices that were commonplace in mills, factories, and mines
  • Immigrants struggling to maintain their cultural identity in the midst of creating a new home in the United States

Earth, Climate, and Change: Observing Human Impact

In this collection, students use photographs as data to observe and identify changes over time in water-related features, and how they relate to the consequences of climate change to humans and habitat.

Classroom Connection
Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, Social Studies, Environmental Studies

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Using photographs and satellite imagery to identify and observe changes in the Earth’s features over time that indicate climate change
  • Using photographs and satellite imagery to prompt discussions on the relationship between the water cycle, weather, and climate, especially the contribution of oceans

Protest and Politics: 1968, Year of the Barricades

In 1968, an unprecedented number of youth-led popular uprisings swept the globe in places as disparate as Japan, the United States, France, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, and beyond. Protestors raged against governments from democratic to autocratic—and in each case, the state raged back. Students demanded change from the status quo. This collection of photographs and activities explores the question, “Why 1968?”

Classroom Connection
World History, U.S. History, Social Studies, English Language Arts

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Student protests and worker strikes in France
  • The “Prague Spring,” the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and anti-Soviet youth protest
  • Student protest in Mexico
  • Columbia University student protests

Place, Culture, and Representation: The Politics of the Harlem Renaissance

During the early part of the twentieth century, Harlem was symbolic of a new political, artistic, and musical expression of African Americans who had recently migrated from the southern United States. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the streets of Harlem, where photographers extensively documented scenes of not only daily life, but also of political and societal events. This collection explores this post-war era, which gave rise to several organized political and economic movements that helped fuel the Harlem Renaissance.

Classroom Connection
Social Studies, U.S. History, American Literature, and English Language Arts

Curriculum Snapshot

  • The Harlem Renaissance

Disaster and Government Response: The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal

The photography of the Dust Bowl and Depression-era is vast and rich, with images that were often commissioned by the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and available through the Library of Congress. The FSA commissioned and collected of more than 270,000 photographs. These photographs were intended to provide the urban and suburban population of America with images that would evoke humanitarian responses to the plight of those facing adversity from the economic and environmental crises of the 1930s.

Classroom Connection
U.S. History, Geography, American Literature, Language Arts, Earth Science

Curriculum Snapshot

  • 1930s Dust Bowl and the Greenbelt Plan of Roosevelt’s New Deal

Energy: Capture, Storage, and Transformation

If you ask students to picture the concept of energy, they might conjure up the images in this collection. They may have difficulty explaining how the photographs represent energy, however. This collection explores how humans have engineered ways to store energy and use energy transformation to do work.

Classroom Connection
Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Engineering

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Using photographs to recognize energy effects in the natural world
  • Examining ways to capture, store, and use energy for work

Economies and Empire: Colonialism and the Clash of National Visions

Focusing on the course of European political domination in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this collection considers some of the interactions between people in Africa and India and their European colonizers, and explores the ways in which colonialism affected the colonizer and the colonized. Photography was an essential tool of colonialist regimes, as photographers traveled widely during the turn of the century.

Classroom Connection
World History, Social Studies, Geography, Literature

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Colonialism, the system of control by European powers over parts of Africa and the subcontinent of Asia
  • The origins and instrumental uses of colonial photography
  • Resistance to colonialism in the form of nationalist movements by using two case studies: India and Algeria

Garbage: The Science and Problem of What We Throw Away

In this collection, students will consider what happens to items that they and everyone else on the planet throw away. Thinking like engineers, they will define a problem by categorizing and quantifying components of trash, and consider different solutions to the problem of dealing with rubbish. The photos will give students a starting point for weighing the pros and cons of recycling, composting, landfills, and other ways to get rid of garbage.

Classroom Connection
Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Engineering, Social Studies

Curriculum Snapshot

  • What happens to our waste
  • Composting and the carbon cycle

Genetics and Bioengineering: The Societal Impacts of Mutations

In this photo collection, see how random mutations, human selection, and genetic engineering have affected living organisms. Considered are the effect of these elements of change on society, and the benefits and potential harms of genetic engineering.

Classroom Connection
Life Science, Engineering, Technology, Applications of Science (optional: Physical Sciences)

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Concepts of the central dogma (DNA, RNA, and protein), heredity, natural selection, and evolution

Forced Migration: Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice

The world has known refugees and displaced people since the beginning of time. The story of flight from danger or strife is a common narrative of humankind. Currently, some 60 million individuals have been forcibly swept from their homes because of violent conflict and/or persecution. This staggering statistic describes a world in the throes of a massive crisis of human displacement and humanitarian suffering. This collection of images from world-renowned photographers will take teachers and students beyond the headlines and statistics, providing historical, cultural, geographical, political, and economic context. A focused examination of photographic imagery will help bring their stories, struggles, and successes to life, and provide insights into an aspect of civilization that is often overlooked.

Classroom Connection
Social Studies, Current Events, Contemporary World History, U.S. History, and Geography

Curriculum Snapshot

  • Forced displacement and refugees
  • Social justice and the rights and needs of refugees
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

How Was Essential Lens Developed?

Manzanar Relocation Center, Manzanar, California. Grandfather and grandson of Japanese ancestry at this War Relocation Authority center. (Dorothea Lange/U.S. National Archives)

The advisory board comprises a professional photographer, a photo editor, a museum curator, middle and high school teachers, and professors who represent the fields of English, history/social studies, biology, earth science/geology, life science, and art history. All have worked to guide the creation of the collection topics and activities, the videos, and all other relevant content. Collections are linked respectively to Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the standards from the National Center for History in the Schools and themes from the National Council for the Social Studies.

The 12 collections represent a broad range of multidisciplinary content. Advisors identified subject-curricular themes that could be enriched by the introduction of photographic-based lesson activities, which connect to commonly taught curricula in middle and high school. Advisors sought to expand teachers’ opportunities to explain, contextualize, and bring alive a particular era, theme, literary text, or scientific concept for their students. Classroom activities provide clear concepts for teachers to engage students with the images and to think critically about them and the topic they are studying. In using photographs and photographic ephemera as forms of primary source materials, and by examining images closely and discussing them using the activities presented on the Essential Lens website (and as PDF downloads), teachers and students will be able to articulate how and why the photographs have deepened their understanding of course content.


Balance describes the harmonious combination of elements (texture, color, form, and shape) in an image.

Composition is the arrangement or structure of the formal elements that make up an image.

Focus refers to the areas of the image that are the sharpest. Focus can create areas of emphasis and influence the mood of the image.

Foreground, middle ground, and background describe the areas in the front, middle, and back of the composition.

Framing describes the area within the boundaries of the photograph.

Light refers to the light and dark areas in the image. Light in the image can be natural or artificial. This is different from value, which describes the range of light to dark tones in the image.

Line describes a dominant path of movement in an image. Lines can vary in direction and length. For example, they can be horizontal or vertical, straight or curved. By creating paths through the image, lines help communicate information and influence our interaction with the image.

Scale describes relationships of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part.

Shapes are created from lines. They can be organic and irregular, or geometric and organized.

Space describes the area between objects. Space between objects contributes to the perception of depth in the image.

Pattern refers to repetition in the image. Textures can be repeated, but so can shapes and other elements.

Photographic ephemera typically refers to paper-based objects that incorporate photographic images (postcards, posters, broadsides, pamphlets, etc.). These objects are inexpensive, broadly circulated, and mass-produced to serve various and immediate uses (commercial, commemorative, educational, decorative, promotional, etc.).

Proportion is related to balance, but it refers to the specific combination of the sizes of different elements in the image.

Texture is the surface quality that can be seen and felt in an image. Textures can be smooth, granular, and so on. Ask: If you could touch the surface of the photograph how would it feel? When textures repeat, this can form a pattern.

Vantage point is the position from which the photographer takes the photograph. The vantage point can be from a particular angle: straight on, or at a diagonal, for example. It can also be elevated, at a distance, or close in proximity.

Photographic Processes

Gelatin silver prints is a general term that describes the most common process for making black and white photographs since the 1890s. They are made with papers coated with a layer of gelatin that contains light-sensitive silver salts.

Digital photography describes the art and science of producing and manipulating photographs that are represented as pixels. Digital photographs can be produced in a few different ways, including by digital camera or by scanning. Digital images are also created by non-photographic equipment, such as computer tomography scanners and radio telescopes.


Baldwin, Gordon. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms. Revised edition. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2009.

Library of Congress: “Popular Photographic Print Processes”

Nuovo Contemporary Art


Advisory Board

“When you walk over sand, you leave a mark in the sand that says that your foot was there in that place and time. And a photograph is like that, too. Someone was there. A camera was there in that place and time recording that event, recording that moment.”
Essential Lens Advisor, Dr. Julia Dolan, from A Closer Look video

Dr. Makeda Best is the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Harvard Art Museum. Previously Dr. Best worked as an assistant professor at the California College of the Arts and at the University of Vermont. She is currently revising a book on the Civil–War-era photographer Alexander Gardner. She is co-editor of Conflict, Identity, and Protest in American Art. She has received grants and fellowships from Duke University, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the Andrew K. Mellon Foundation. She received her BA from Barnard College, BFA and MFA in studio photography from the California Institute of the Arts, and MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Dr. Brooke Bourdélat brings a background in science through degrees in biology but has worked in science education for many years. Her curriculum development experience ranges from elementary through high school, recently working on middle school through the Diabetes Education Curriculum project, Technology in Practice, and BSCS Middle School Science/Inquiry Grade 8. As part of this work, Brooke has developed expertise in sense-making, literacy, and metacognitive strategies. With each project, Brooke is responsible for writing student and teacher materials, with a goal of helping teachers understand how to guide their students in learning. Brooke conducts professional development workshops on topics including sense-making, inquiry, leadership, and curriculum development. She also coaches teachers to help them develop skills related to their own professional goals.

Dr. Julia Dolan is The Minor White Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum. Founded in 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the seventh-oldest museum in the United States. Serving more than 350,000 visitors annually, the museum is a premier venue for education in the visual arts.

Dr. Dolan holds a B.F.A. in Photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art, an MA in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in Art History from Boston University. She has worked with the photography collections at a number of museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, and the Fogg Art Museum. She has curated and co-curated more than fifteen photography exhibitions including “Transcending the Literal: Photographs by Ansel Adams from the Collection and Spectacle at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” as well as “Likeness: Portraiture from the Photography Collection and Surface: Landscape Photography at the Portland Art Museum.” Dr. Dolan is currently working on an exhibition and book of esteemed landscape photographer Robert Adams’s Oregon imagery. She has published essays in multiple books and magazines including The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography(Routledge, 2005), An Endless Panorama of Beauty: Selections from the Jean and Alvin Snowiss Collection of American Art (Penn State University Press, 2002), and Bobby Abrahamson: North Portland Polaroids (Ampersand, 2012).

Lisa Espinosa has a master’s in education from National-Louis University and also received certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. She was a middle school teacher for nearly ten years in the Chicago Public Schools, where she worked primarily with Mexican immigrant students. In 2008 she was presented with the Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction award. Throughout her teaching career, Lisa received various grants, many to help fund an annual black-and-white photography project she did with her seventh- grade students. In 2005, this work was featured in the Annenberg Learner professional development video series, Teaching Multiculturalism Through Literature, produced by WNET Public Television in New York City. Lisa has published several essays, including the chapter, “Everything Flowers,” in the book, City Kids City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row. She has presented at various national and international education conferences, including the International Reading Association and the National Association of Multicultural Education. In 2009, Lisa left teaching to pursue a career in holistic healing and to bring these services to underserved communities in Chicago.

Dr. Bruce E. Larson is a professor of secondary education and social studies at Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education. He teaches courses in curriculum development, instructional strategies, assessment, and history/social studies teaching methods. Dr. Larson’s book on the effective use of instructional strategies — Instructional Strategies for Middle and High School, 2nd Ed. 2013 — helps teachers purposefully select instructional strategies and valid assessment techniques. Another book — Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies: Methods, Assessment, and Classroom Management, 2nd Ed. 2017 —specifically examines strategies for helping students learn social studies content and skills. His work on using classroom discussion and on integrating computer-based technology into classrooms has been published in journals such as Theory and Research in Social Education, Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, Social Studies and the Young Learner, The Social Studies, Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, and Social Education. He has published numerous curriculum guides and contributed chapters in edited books that cover both teacher education and social studies education. Dr. Larson was an advisor on America’s History in the Making (2008), produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and distributed by Annenberg Learner.

Dr. Susan McWilliams was an educator at the High Desert Museum in Bend for 12 years, serving as a science educator and education director. Prior to working at the museum, Susan was an elementary teacher and science coordinator in American International Schools in West Africa and Portugal. She holds a BA in Biology and an MS in Biology/Environmental Education. Susan has also been an instructor at COCC (Central Oregon Community College), Eastern Oregon University and OSU-Cascades in Bend, WOU in Monmouth and adjunct faculty with Lewis & Clark College. Currently, Susan is a science education consultant offering professional development programs for schools and districts around the state. She is the president of the Oregon Science Teachers Association and serves on the Advisory Council for Science and Children, the NSTA Journal for elementary educators.

Lesley Meyer has been the photo editor and archivist at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles for more than 4 years, focusing her expertise in publishing on the Photography Space’s acclaimed exhibition and programming. Lesley’s previous experience as an award-winning photo director in magazine publishing spanned 17 years. Her eclectic talent for pairing photographers with assignments led her to work for such diverse magazines as InterviewJANEVLife, and Outside. Her widespread knowledge of photojournalism, editorial photography and fine art began at an early age: getting lost in National Geographic magazines; looking at photography books with her father, who was an avid photographer; and growing up in Washington, DC, where she spent her free time in its abundance of museums. She graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with BFA in Painting.

Dr. Gary Nash is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA, where he has taught since 1966. A B.A. and Ph.D. graduate of Princeton University, he was president of the Organization of American Historians in 1994-95 and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Society of American Historians, and the American Antiquarian Society. He was a founding member of the National Council for History Education and has been Associate Director of the National Center for History in the Schools (1987-1996) and Director (1996-2012). He co-chaired the National History Standards Project (1992-1996). He has authored and edited more than thirty books and contributed more than ninety essays to scholarly journals and books. He served on the National Parks Service Second Century Commission in 2007-09 and co-authored Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Parks (2011). Over the past several decades he has served as an advisor to Oregon Public Broadcasting on three history and literature projects.

Dr. Shailja Sharma is the director of the MS program in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at DePaul University. Sharma’s research and teaching interests include postcolonial theory and literature, migration and diaspora, South Asia, citizenship studies, race, and forced migration and displacement. She has written numerous articles and book chapters about forced migration, culture and identity, and citizenship, among many other topics. Sharma’s scholarly and public presentations and panels cover a broad range of topics and include the recent “Panel on Citizenship, Migration, and State Policies in the Global South and East Asia” and a public talk on WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio, titled “The Refugee Crisis in Calais.” Her book, Postcolonial Minorities in Britain and France: In the Hyphen of the Nation-State, was published by Manchester University Press in 2016. Dr. Sharma advised on the Forced Displacement, Human Rights, and the Struggle for Social Justice collection.


View of pumice plain of Mount St. Helens being eroded deeply by the Toutle River, re-establishing its course from the crater and Spirit Lake down the valley to the west. (Gary Braasch Photography)

Photojournalist Gary Braasch has covered and photographed the science and effects of global warming for 15 years. His archive of images is online at Braasch’s photographs have been used for United Nations postage stamps and calendars, in exhibitions at the Boston Museum of Science and Chicago’s Field Museum, and in an app “Painting With Time: Climate Change.” Currently a 32-print exhibit is traveling in Europe. His books about climate change include Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World(University of California Press) and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming(with Lynne Cherry; Dawn Publications). Braasch’s environmental photography on other subjects has been published by TimeLifeScientific AmericanSmithsonianNational Geographic, and hundreds of other publications.

Sandra Childs is a library media specialist at Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon. She is certified in Ed Media, Social Studies, and Language Arts. She has been teaching courses such as Women & Social Issues, Global Studies, Law, and Psychology to high school students for more than 20 years. She has published numerous articles as an educator-activist in Rethinking Schools, including “The Hero’s Human Heart” about Julia Alvarez’ novel In the Time of the Butterflies, which uses photographs as a starting place. She is a teacher-consultant for the Oregon Writing Project, and was featured in the Annenberg Learner series The Expanding Canon Episode 7 & Episode 8 on Critical Pedagogy.


“Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. For one thing, there are a great many more images around, claiming our attention… 

The inventory starting in 1839 and since then, just about everything has been photographed, or so its seems…”
Susan Sontag, On Photography

Dr. Makeda Best [INSERT ADVISERS LINK] In addition to serving on the Essential Lens advisory board, Dr. Best co-wrote the Forced Migration: Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice collection, developed and wrote the Focus In content, the History of Photography, and contributed to additional website content.

Dr. Bruce E. Larson [INSERT] In addition to serving on the Essential Lens advisory board, Dr. Larson wrote the Disaster and Government Response: The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the New Deal collection, and co-wrote the Change and Resistance: Civil Rights Movements Across the Nation and the Forced Migration: Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice collections, as well as the social studies activity in the Garbage: The Science and Problem of What We Throw Away.

Dr. Lauren McClanahan is Professor of Secondary Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. Prior to WWU, Lauren taught eighth-grade language arts/social studies at Springfield Middle School in Lucama, North Carolina. An avid photographer, Lauren enjoys integrating photography and digital storytelling into her literacy classes for middle and high school pre-service teachers. Recently, Lauren has created the “First Person Singular” project, in which middle and high school students living in geographically sensitive areas tell their stories, through words and pictures, about how climate change is directly impacting their lives. Dr. McClanahan wrote the Immigration, Urbanization, and Identity: The Progressive Era CityPlace, Culture, and Representation: The Politics of the Harlem Renaissance; and Economies and Empire: Colonialism and the Clash of National Visions collections.

Tullan Spitz was formerly the senior manager of content development at Oregon Public Broadcasting, where she developed ideas and spearheaded grants for prime-time public television documentary programming, websites, public outreach, and materials for teachers and students. Currently, she is the senior grant writer for Portland Public Schools. Spitz designed the original concept for Essential Lens. She has a bachelor’s degree in history from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Spitz wrote the Protest and Politics: 1968, Year of the Barricadescollection, and co-wrote the Change and Resistance: Civil Rights Across the Nation and the Economies and Empire: Colonialism and the Clash of National Visions collections. Spitz also crafted the outline for the Forced Displacement: Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice collection.

Dr. Chris Tachibana is a science writer and editor who lives and works in Seattle and Copenhagen, Denmark. Her freelance work includes writing feature articles for Science careers, The Scientist,, and international biotechnology magazines. Chris also edits grant applications and journal manuscripts and has a part-time position as a science writer and editor for Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. Chris previously worked on the Oregon Public Broadcasting and Annenberg Learner project, “Rediscovering Biology, Molecular to Global Perspectives.”

Chris has a Ph.D. in molecular biology. She has been a researcher and instructor at Penn State University and the University of Washington, and a visiting scientist at Carlsberg Research Labs and Copenhagen University. See more on her online portfolio. Dr. Tachibana wrote the Processes of Science: Mars, a Case StudyEarth, Climate and Change: Observing Human ImpactEnergy: Capture, Storage and TransformationGarbage: The Science and Problem of What We Throw Away; and Genetics and Bioengineering: The Societal Impacts of Mutations.


Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum is a production of Oregon Public Broadcasting, based in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) is an award-winning producer of formal and informal educational resources for teachers and students with expertise in traditional and new media productions. OPB also produces popular PBS prime-time television, and online media including the acclaimed history program, History Detectives, and science and history program, Time Team America.

Working closely with national academic experts and advisory boards, OPB produces curriculum materials in the humanities and sciences at the middle and high school level, as well as teacher professional development. All educational curriculum and PBS television series include interactive websites, teacher and student materials, mobile apps, and other resources to bring content alive.

OPB is a proud producer of multimedia courses for Annenberg Learner. These include American Passages: A Literary SurveyArtifacts & Fiction: Workshop in American LiteratureRediscovering Biology: Molecular to Global PerspectivesBridging World History, and Mathematics Illuminated.

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HUB’s focus is on companies that have their marketing strategy defined and need fresh creative to bring it to life. We translate intellectual strategy and make it an experience, seamlessly communicating the brand’s message across every medium and touchpoint. Our ten+ years as a studio help us see around corners and hear what you’re not saying. HUB created the Essential Lens logo and video animation.

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Clients have included several federal, state, and private agencies including the National Science Foundation; United States Departments of Education, Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services; the Alliance for a Healthier Generation; Scholastic, Inc.; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Offices are located in New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, and Oregon. The Oregon office of RMC Research Corporation performed the formative evaluation for the series.

Video and Website Production Credits

Executive Producer Catherine Stimac
Video Producers Beth Harrington and Eric Slade
Senior Web Developer and Designer Heather Young
Senior Designer LaVerne Heiman-Layton
Senior Associate Producer Ann Suckow McGarry
Associate Producers Ashley Michael Karitis, Tracey Whitney
Camera Greg Bond, Tom Shrider, Todd Sonfleith
Audio Ted Cutler, Randy Layton, William Ward 
Editors Greg Bond, Nicolas Fisher, Tom Shrider
Post Production Michael Bendixen, Steve Hoyt, Jonathan Newsome
Post Associate Producer Michaela Santen
Audio Engineer Steven Vaughn Kray
Copy Editor Jennifer Ingraham
Assistant Text Editors Kate McMahon, Kelsey Wallace
Researcher Carol Sherman
Original Theme Music Brian Sussman
Narrator October Moore
Production Interns Krysta Maksim, Jo Mancuso
Production Management Cheri Arbini, Susan Boyd, Stacy Carroll Coonfield
Production Services Lisa Miyamoto
Legal Services Rebecca Morris, Kathleen Susco
Business Affairs Susan Smith
Vice President, Television Production David Davis
Executive in Charge of Production Steven M. Bass
Annenberg Learner Program Officer Michele McLeod

Series Directory

Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum


Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. 2015.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-905-6