Category Archives: modules

Reading an Image

Helmut Brinkmann and Page Chichester at the Wall, Berlin. Possibly taken by an unknown passerby. 1990.

This image is part of the collection Behind the Wall: Images of East Germany housed in Special Collections at George Mason University. Photographers Helmut Brinkmann and Page Chichester traveled throughout East Germany photographing people and cities during the period of German re-unification when the Berlin Wall was being torn down. The image shows them taking part in what became a popular ritual–to break off part of the Berlin Wall as a souvenir.

Exercises:

  1. Read and compare the language used in the Finding Aid to the language used to promote the gallery exhibit. What differences stand out (if any)? What is the mission of each document is, and how is the language influenced by this mission?
  2. Looking specifically at the image above, what does it initially tell us about topics like German re-unification, the Cold War, communism, human nature, etc? Now select a book from the exhibit reading list. How does reading this book change or confirm your reading of the image?
  3. Examine the image above separately and in the context of the entire collection. Does your interpretation of the image change when examining it next to the other images? Do the photographs share similar purposes? Keep in mind that the image above was likely taken by a passerby and the other images were taken by the two photographers.
  4. What adjectives would you use to describe the images? Authentic? Sensationalized? Explain why you chose these words, keeping in mind lighting, camera angle, framing, and other photographic techniques.
  5. Now search for photographs of the Berlin Wall in the library database Artstor. Compare and contrast these photographs to those taken by Brinkmann and Chichester. Are there noticeable differences and similarities in the photographic techniques being used? How do all of these images compare to those in the textbook?
  6. Consider the images in relation to the following quotes by famous photographers:
    1. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. — Dorothea Lange, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1978
    2.  “When I first became interested in photography…my idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don’t give a hoot about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself. And that is the most complicated thing on earth and also as naïve as a tender plant.” — Edward Steichen