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Picturing the family

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Besides being simple mementos, family photographs can offer insights into the past. This free course, Picturing the family, looks at some of the ways photographs can reveal, and sometimes conceal, important information about the past. It teaches the skills and provides some of the knowledge needed to interpret such pictorial sources.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand that photographs are shaped by a set of conventions based on ideas and practices which are not immediately apparent
  • understand that photographs, like other documentary records, are partial and biased
  • understand that photographs, like other documentary records, require critical analysis and careful interpretation
  • understand the importance of contextualisation in analysing photographs.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 12 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 27th January 2016
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Visual Art
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Picturing the family

Introduction

Unit image

Most of us today take photographs for our family albums. The lucky ones among us have also inherited family photographs from the past. These photographs provide another type of record that can offer insights into our family history. But what can they tell us? How can we elicit the information they hold? And how do we analyse or evaluate that information? The purpose of this course is to suggest how to approach the interpretation of the photographic record.

Please keep referring to your own family photographs as you work through the course. This will help you assimilate the information and assist in the analysis of your own photographs.

Don't assume that once you have studied a photograph, you will have garnered all the information there is to be found. I am constantly surprised at how much I fail to see when I look at photographs. I have given talks using the same images to different audiences. Frequently somebody seeing an image for the first time will point out details I had not previously registered.

In addition, of course, an insight you discover about an image in your collection may have repercussions for others. So the process is one of continuous reading and reappraisal. Bits of the jigsaw gradually fall into place.

This course looks at some of the ways photographs can reveal, and sometimes conceal, important information about the past. It will teach the skills and provides some of the knowledge needed to interpret such pictorial sources.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 1 study in Arts and Humanities [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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