Activity: SU20 Miller English 317

Visual Fictions: Photography and 20th/21st Century Literature

In small groups, appoint a note-taker and someone who will be responsible for sharing what you discussed with the whole group.

Below are some questions to consider when looking through this activity. Remember, you can click on any image to zoom in.

  • What drew you to this work in particular?
  • How do you think it was made?
  • What feeling, mood, or thought does this work evoke for you?
  • Can you draw a comparison between what you have read or discussed in class to what you see?
  • Look at the form of the piece- how would you describe the colors?
  • What words capture the quality of line in this work?
  • How is space depicted?
  • Does the title of the work provide helpful information for this discussion?


Allegories of America

Take a look at this first photograph by Richard Swanson, depicting Estonian refugees being welcomed to the United States.

1) Take a moment and look at the photograph. What do you see? Write out everything you see.

2) What elements of the photograph convey to you what’s happening/what’s being depicted in the image?

3) How are Americans portrayed? How are Estonians portrayed? How do you know?

4) What is this photographer trying to say about America?


Now take a look at this collage by Ida Abelman.

1) What do you see?

2) Who and what are the figures being represented? How do you know?

3) What is this piece trying to say about America and immigration?


Lastly is this image by Doug Webb, called “Liberty Renewed.” 

1) What do you see?

2) What is the purpose of including the Statue of Liberty? What is the significance of the bathtub?

3) What is this image saying about America, immigration, and liberty? How is liberty renewed and at what cost?

4) What are the similarities and differences in how the three images depict America?




Photography and Documentary

Take a few moments and look through the images from Danny Lyons’s “Conversations with the Dead.”

1) What do you see? 

2) What is unexpected about these images?

3) How do these photographs serve as documentary representations of prisons? What is similar or different to how prisons and incarceration is usually presented?

4) What do you think Lyons is trying to say with these images?

Look at “Flags,” by Joanne Leonard.

1) What do you see on the left side of the image? On the right?

2) What is the significance of putting these two images next to each other? What is the significance of putting them on/in a book?

3)What is different about each of these images? How do they present similar or different images of America?

Look at Joel Meyerowitz’s photograph, “New Mexico.”

1) What do you see?

2) What is unexpected about the image? How does Meyerowitz use irony?

3) Is this a documentary photograph? If so, what is it documenting? If not, then why not? What is Meyerowitz trying to say? 


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July 13, 2020 5:35 p.m.


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