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We live in an increasingly visual society. Just take a look at the proliferation of, and near obsession with, digital and mobile phone cameras let alone the over three billion photos on Flickr! We are surrounded by images everywhere in our lives. By studying and discussing photographs with your students, you will help them better understand the complexities of their world.

By incorporating photographic media in your curriculum, you expose your class to artefacts from the past that are authentic and make history come alive. Many collections are coming online and provide educational institutions with free access e.g. State RPicadilly Circusecords. These historic photos fascinate students because they are real.

As David Jakes said, “Visual information is everywhere online, and the importance of being visually literate cannot be overstated. Visual literacy has been identified as an essential literacy by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills; and with the development of the tools and contributory capacity of Web 2.0, it is critical that schools focus on helping students acquire the skills necessary to navigate, evaluate, and to communicate with visual information.”

An suggested activity is to display a historical photo, like the one of Piccadilly Circus. Imagine it displayed on a SMARTBoard and students could come out and circle elements that were of note. This particular photo appears on and has accompanying notes and a Google Map showing its location. The best feature of this website is that you can search for photos by date and location. As yet, there is not much Australian content on the site, but it would still provide a focus for discussing ‘Then and Now’ i.e. have a modern photo of the location and do a Compare / Contrast activity.

To give you more ideas and to start you thinking about questions to be discussed, look at Picture This. For instance, Where do you think it was taken? Who do you think the people in the picture are? What does it look like they are doing? Utilise your technology to zoom in to uncover more detail. For instance, who is this person? What is he doing? What products are being advertised in the area?

“All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few of us are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing” (Leschak).

To help children “see”, a wonderful project is being run by Picture Australia, called the Re-Picture Australia project. Further details at Picture Australia is hosted by National Library of Australia which also houses a wonderful collection of photos.


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