Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Focus in on this Photo: Comparison of unsprayed conventional cotton crop and Bt GM cotton in Australia
#2003 The color photograph is of a field of cotton. The photograph is divided to depict two different crops, which are distinguishable by color.
Source: Cotton Australia
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore-forming bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are toxic to many species of insects. Crops have been modified with short sequences of genes from Bt to express the crystal protein Bt makes. With this method, plants themselves can produce the proteins and protect themselves from insects without any external Bt and/or synthetic pesticide sprays.
The photograph of a cotton field is graphically organized into four areas. On the left are plants that have cotton growing on them, and on the right the plants are barren. Along the horizon line at the back of the composition is a line of trees, and above that, the sky.
The line down the center of the photograph draws the viewer’s attention into the back of the image.
The effect of the close cropping of the photograph to this particular section of the field is enhanced by the dramatic differences in color.
On the left, the plants have fluffy tufts of cotton.
On the right, the plants are mostly brown and rough-looking, with darker reddish spots throughout. The different textures also serve to enforce a comparison.
Build on Your Observations
The point of view of the photograph, with the field dramatically receding into the distance, emphasizes the large size of the field.
The graphic composition is visual confirmation of what we read in the caption and metadata, which tells us the photograph was made in Australia. It shows a field sprayed with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a spore-forming bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects, and an unsprayed field. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterial disease of insects. Cotton crops are particularly attractive to such insects as cabbage loopers, and this is one of the insects that can be controlled with Bt.
The photograph is trying to demonstrate the impact of Bt through a graphic comparison.
By providing a sense of the size of this field, the photograph suggests the scale of impact of the use of Bt versus not using Bt on preserving the cotton crop.
Formulate Further Questions
How does Bt work to control insects?
Are there other naturally occurring spores like Bt that scientists use to control insects?
Is Bt only effective in certain regions, or is it used throughout the world?
3.4 Focus in on this Photo: Comparison of unsprayed conventional cotton crop and Bt GM cotton in Australia
3.5 Focus in on This Photo: Migratory Mexican field worker’s home on the edge of a frozen pea field. Imperial Valley, California
Program 1 A Closer Look (video)
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.
Program 2 Witness (video)
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.
Program 3 Lives (video)
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.
video 4 Evidence (video)
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.
Program 5 Story (video)
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.