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Yesterday, my students analysed photographs as visual arguments.  First they answered eight questions to help them deconstruct the photos then they wrote one paragraph synthesizing or refiguring the images into arguments.  Here are five that stood out both in image and in interpretation.  I warn you, some of the images are disturbing and heartbreaking.

Students’ Written Analyses

This picture shows Nelson Mandela in prison.  He was in jail for 27 years, and yet just by looking at the picture you can tell his determination has not been shaken.  His spirit has not been broken.  Mandela is wearing white so that is symbolic of purity and innocence.  Mandela is standing up tall, looking forward to the day when he will be free.  Even while in a jail cell, he is still inspiring.   The photo communicates hope to me.  -Meron G.

The child’s head is down and there’s the possibility of her crying or she’s afraid to look at her mom poking a needle into her arm.  The mother physically and emotionally turns her back on her daughter as she shoots heroin.  Also, the chair in which the child is sitting is surrounded by messy things, which can symbolize how much the mother really doesn’t give her the attention that she should as a mother. -Khali Z.

The media has always tried to enforce judgment on everyone’s life.  Women cannot hide from advertisements about their weight and body image.  Constant commercials, TV shows or posters enforce the skinny beautiful girls get it all.  In reality, not everyone can be a size zero.  Back when Marilyn Monroe was an icon she brought the image of big, blonde and beautiful.  Making it all right for women to be curvy and thick but as time went on there was a struggle for keeping that image.  Soon we came to a conclusion that skin and bones make the new hot body, which in my eyes is entirely untrue.  If you are  healthy and confident with what you have that is the perfect body image for you. -Ashleigh C.

This picture shows kids lined up, sitting down with empty bowls infront of them.  What this means to me is that they are hungry.  When I see this photo it makes me want to help them because I don’t want these kids to die from hunger.  This photograph also shows me that it’s not just these kids that are poor; there are many people around the world in this situation.  I think people should make donations and funds.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, just how much you can afford.  If everybody does this, maybe we can make a difference and stop people from dying of starvation.  I hope people understand the feelings of struggle and try to help these poor people. -Abel A.

This image raises an extremely important issue to all viewers.  It evokes emotions that are deeply grounded in our hearts.  For the most part, as a society, we are afraid of the loss and destruction that war brings.  We are even afraid of the loss of something very dear and close to us, period.  Even though the war is being fought overseas, we can clearly see the ripple effect it brings through the ocean and back home into our hearts, lives, and homes.  This image gives an even deeper argument, because it causes us to think about even the tight bonds that are broken between a pet and his owner in the loss of life during war.  The dog feels the same pain and the same loss as a human would [feel].  It evokes sympathetic emotion for the dog and brings our minds back to the time we experienced the emotion that a death might have brought to our lives.  This image is so powerful because dogs are considered loyal and man’s best friend.  They are considered protectors and in this image we see the loyalty the dog has [for] his owner by lying down right in front of the casket during his funeral service.  The loyalty is still there, the protection, and the love.  It causes us to think about the gains won in this war, and we must ask ourselves, do the gains really outweigh the losses? -Jaclyn H.

My Thoughts

I’m not going to lie.  My class focuses on social responsibility though it’s never explicitly stated nor do I preach any particular message; a lot can be said, though, about the reading selections teachers make.  For this assignment, I asked my students to find an image that resonated with them, and what each of them found says so much regarding what they are thinking about, what they care about, and how they (perhaps not consciously) see themselves effecting change in the world.  I think that is pretty darn cool.

On a more personal note, the image that struck me most was, of course, the image of the dog resting at the casket of his owner.  It’s the story of Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson’s and his Labrador retriever, Hawkeye.  Tumilson died in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011.  As Tumilson’s friend Scott Nichols walked to the stage to give a eulogy, Hawkeye followed and stopped before the casket.  The TODAY show article says, “Hawkeye walked up to the casket at the beginning of the service and then dropped down with a heaving sigh as about 1,500 mourners witnessed a dog accompanying his master until the end.”  Nichols now takes care of Hawkeye.  As Jaclyn notes in her analysis of this photograph, “The loyalty is still there, the protection, and the love.”

Students today are already dealing with some pretty heavy stuff.  Because of the internet and social media, they are more informed than I was at their age.  They may not sit with their parents at breakfast, reading the newspaper (who does that anymore?) but they are certainly exposed to lots of information on a more rapid basis.  As a teacher coming from a generation not too far from theirs, even I sometimes wonder if they slow down and take the time to think about all the images they see and the messages they receive.  This visual argument analysis assignment gives them an opportunity to think more deeply and critically of images; for me, it reveals something reassuring about them.

All five students gave me permission to post their analyses at this blog.

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