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The Civil Rights Movement: Photos

How to Critically Evaluate a Photograph

How to Read a Photo:

Consider the content of the photograph and the intent of the photographer. It is important to think consciously and critically and to pay attention to all aspects of the image.  Answer the following questions:

Who or what do you see?

When was this photograph taken? 

What is happening in the photograph?

Where was this photograph taken?

Why did the photographer select these particular elements to include in the photograph?

What don’t you see?

Why did the photographer emphasize certain elements and not others?

What’s in focus? Is only one person or element in focus, or are many elements in focus?

Why did the photographer take the picture at this moment?

What happened before or after this picture was taken?Why did the photographer take the picture from this angle?

What might the scene have looked like from another vantage point — from left, right, behind, above, or below?

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do Visit your local historic society and libraries and get to know their staff.
  • Do compare photos with other forms of data such as oral histories or written documents.
  • Do assess the perspective of the photographer.
  • Do think beyond what you see in an image.
  • Don’t violate copyright laws when using photos.
  • Don’t always think of photos as an “objective” view.
  • Don’t rely on the internet as your sole source of historic photos.