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Photograph Analysis Example for exercise #1:
The Soiling of Old Glory. Stanley Forman. 1976.
a. In the foreground is a man dressed in black holding a flag pole that still has the U.S.
flag on it. It looks like he is about to stab a black man (being held by several people)
with the flag pole. The black man is dressed in a suit.
b. In the midground is a group of people, mostly men in casual clothing. These folks all
seem to be white people. They are looking at the scene. It seems that they are all
looking at the direction of the black man.
c. The background is a row of buildings that look like brownstones clustered very
closely. The setting is in a plaza between buildings. The ground is not concrete like a
normal driving road. The ground is paved with bricks evenly. The street seems clean.
d. The subject matter is people in an urban setting.
e. This is a representational photograph taken objectively because it doesn’t look like
these people posed for the photograph.
2. Formal elements:
Lines: There are lots of vertical lines formed by the bricks on the floor forming parallel
lines that leads toward the buildings at the end of the street. There are also lots of vertical
lines on the buildings on both side of the photograph. Lines are also repeated on the
American flag. The people’s legs look like vertical lines.
Texture: The bricks on the ground give a hint of bumpiness. The lines and stars on the
flag create a visual opposite to the solid fabrics on the people’s clothes. The checkered
pattern on the shirt of the man in the center of the photograph repeats the checkered
windows in the background buildings.
Color/value: The picture is in black and white. The man holding the flag pole is in all
black creates a small contrast with the black man in gray suit. The building behind the
man with the flagpole is in shadow which created a darkness while the building behind
the back man is doused in sunshine and appears to be very bright and light.
Space: The photographer composed this picture by juxtaposing the emptiness in the
foreground with the chaos in the midground. This transform the foreground into a stage
Photo 121 – History and Appreciation of Photography
Vocabulary for Photograph Analysis Exercises
o Abstract: an image that emphasizes formal elements (line, shape, etc.) rather than
specific, recognizable objects.
o Representational: Images of recognizable objects.
o Subject: The main object or person in a photograph.
o Content: The subject, topic or information captured in a photograph
o Objective: The capturing of a subject in a non-subjective way, showing no personal bias,
not making any statement. Showing the subject as is.
o Intention: The reasons why the artist created this work or the reasons for the choices
(could be formal or aesthetic) she made in creating this work.
o Expressive: Showing emotion
o Theme: a consistent, dominant, and unifying idea in a body or collection of work.
o Geometric shape: shapes found in geometry like circles, squares, triangle, and
o Organic shape: shapes based on natural objects such as trees, rocks, leaves.
o Landscape: Environment (can be natural or man-made like buildings).
Visual Elements in art/photography:
o Line: What kind of lines are in the photograph? Curvy, straight, thin, thick? One single
line? Multiple lines? Are the lines creating some kind of directions or movements? Is a
natural line formed by the object itself (like an electrical line) or is it a group of objects
that formed a line (like a bunch of cones lined up to form a line)?
o Shape: Are the shapes geometric or organic? One shape or many? Do they form a
o Space: Does the photograph seem to show depth? Shallow? What made this (like large
cones in front and gets smaller as they move into the back – this creates depth)? Is there
a spatial illusion? What about the negative/background space?
o Texture: Does the image/object feel rough? Smooth? Does it look wet? Shiny? If you
could touch the surface what do you think it would feel like?
o Value: How dark is the darkest value? The lightest? Is there a long range of grays? Does
the foreground or main object have the lightest or darkest value?
Components in art/photography:
o Vantage point or Angle: Where is the photographer’s vantage point? Does it seem like
the photographer is very low on the ground pointing the camera up? The opposite?
o Background or negative space: Not the main object or point of interest in the
photograph. This can be supporting landscape, objects, buildings, or people.
o Balance: Are the visual elements in the photograph evenly (symmetrical) distributed? Or
the opposite (Asymmetrical)? How does the evenness make you feel? What about the
unbalanced asymmetrical placement of objects? Does it make you feel uneasy?
o Focus: Which object(s) are most prominently focused in the photograph?
o Light: Which part of the photograph is highlighted? Shadows? Is the light natural or
artificial? Is it soft lighting? Harsh light? Is it a direct light source (light shining on the
subject)? Or is it a reflected source (light bouncing off something else onto the subject)?
Can you guess the time of day base of the lighting?
o Repetition: Are there a group of shapes that are grouped together to create a pattern
(this can be objects or the negative/background spaces)?
o Composition: The arrangement of the formal elements that make up the photograph.
o Contour: The outline of an object or shape. Does the light cause the objects to form an
outline? What purpose does this serve? Does the shadow or value or light form an
illusion of lines that move your eyes from certain point to point?
o Contrast: Strong visual differences between light and dark, smooth and rough textures,
single object that connotes light weight vs a large group of objects that give the notion
of heavy weight, etc.…
o Framing or Edge of paper: How did the photographer crop or frame the work? Does the
object/image end at exactly the end of the edge of the paper? Does the object/image
get cut off? Are there a lot of space left at the top of the paper? Does this make
everything seem really crowded in the space? Does the amount of space devoted to the
top make the sky/space see, bigger? Ask why the object/image ends where it ends?
Why are things placed where they are?
o Setting: The actual environment where the image/object is photographed? Is it indoor?
Outdoor? On a table? On a stage? Describe the space.