Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Focus in on this Photo: Washington, D.C., 1963
Date: August 28, 1963
Location: Washington, D.C.
Photographer: Danny Lyon
Source: Magnum Photos
Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sing freedom songs during the March on Washington.
Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.
The main subject of this photograph is the people in the foreground. The background appears to be sky.
The actions and intense expressions of the two young men suggest they are reacting to something unseen outside of the composition. Their individual reactions can be contrasted with that of the woman who stands behind them.
The photographer is very close in proximity to the young men, but they are so focused that they do not notice him.
The two men seem to be wearing similar jackets with white stitching. According to the caption, it appears that the group gathered are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Build on your Observations
The vertical orientation of the photograph and cropped composition isolates these figures and captures their emotion.
The tight composition enhances the impact of the gestures of the men, which introduce movement into the tight space. The young man on the left claps and creates movement that moves toward his own body as he closes his eyes; the young man on the right makes the opposite movement, raising his hand, as if to try to move beyond his body.
The lowered vantage point frames the boy’s hand against the sky, while the close proximity allows the image to give equal attention to the intense emotion of the boy in the foreground.
The year the photograph was made and the location indicates the photograph portrays a historic gathering. In fact, these young men are just two of the 250,000 people who participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 in Washington, D.C. At this historic event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The emotions of these young men tell us something of the passion young people had for supporting the cause of civil rights, and of their dedication to be active participants in it, despite their youth.
Formulate Further Questions
What was the impact of the March on Washington?
What were the opinions on the March on Washington among African Americans? Was the event universally supported?
What other contributions did young people make to the civil rights movement?
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.