Recently we asked: Which of these photographs are of the same person? Now we explore the answer, along with the ways in which an artist’s purpose and point of view can change the way a subject is portrayed.
All three photos are of the singer Billie Holiday. The one on the left was taken by William Gottlieb during a performance; the center image, also by Gottlieb is a posed shot; the picture on the right was taken by Carl Van Vechten, a writer and onetime music critic, who grew interested in promoting black artists and writers. William Gottlieb, documenting the jazz scene, took most of his photographs while on assignments for the Washington Post, Down Beat magazine, and Record Changer.
Take one more look at the pictures; how does knowing a bit about each photographer’s purpose help explain the differences in the images?
Just as a writer chooses words, a photographer chooses details for a particular effect. Pose, setting, clothing and props, and focus of the image all affect how the viewer perceives the subject. Changing the choices changes the impact and point of view of the picture. While William Gottlieb was capturing the performer Billie Holiday, Carl Van Vechten promoted a broader view of the creative artist. This gallery offers more images by each photographer.
- Point of View in Statues of Abraham Lincoln: Three Looks at a Leader – A Primary Source Starter, a blog post offers more tips for teaching point of view with visual items;
- Reading Portraits: Analyzing Art as a Primary Source provides a variety of tips and teaching suggestion to help students analyze a portrait.
How could you use an activity like this with your students?