The Open University since 2006
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
Life Story: ParenthoodMonday, 26th September 2016 23:00 - BBC FourSome parents are more closely involved than others. Read more: Life Story: Parenthood
Life Story: CourtshipAvailable until Sunday, 23rd October 2016 01:25Without Tinder to rely on, how do animals find the right mate? Read more: Life Story: Courtship
BBC Inside Science - 2016/2017 series: What's left to explore?Available for over a year
Scotland and The Battle for Britain: Episode 2Available until Friday, 21st October 2016 01:35
Life Story: PowerAvailable until Sunday, 16th October 2016 01:35
The BBC And The OU: Inspiring LearningTake a look back at some of the programmes, apps and online learning the BBC and Open University... Watch now: The BBC And The OU: Inspiring Learning
Take the photographic memory testCan you capture scenes just by looking at them? Find out with our photographic memory test. Launch now: Take the photographic memory test
The lottery of birthThis free course, The lottery of birth, will look at both the big picture of the ‘lottery of... Try: The lottery of birth now
Introduction to bookkeeping and accountingLearn about the essential numerical skills required for accounting and bookkeeping. This free... Try: Introduction to bookkeeping and accounting now
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.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 How to avoid damage when handling photographs
- 2 Background history
- 3 The portrait tradition: ideology
- 4 The portrait tradition: methodology
- 4.1 Facial expression
- 4.2 Pose
- 4.3 Characterisation and sexual stereotyping
- 4.4 Groups
- 4.5 Touch
- 4.6 Touch and feeling
- 4.7 Exceptions
- 4.8 Backgrounds and accessories
- 4.9 Lighting
- 4.10 Retouching
- 4.11 Colouring
- 4.12 Key concepts
- 5 Camera culture
- 5.1 Capturing commemorative events
- 5.2 Records of achievement
- 5.3 Prized possessions
- 5.4 Special occasions
- 5.5 Rites of passage
- 5.6 Rites of passage (continued)
- 5.7 Rites of passage (continued)
- 6 Portraits in the open air
- 7 Writing
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Picturing the family
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.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Visual Art courses or view the range of currently available OU Visual Art courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Wednesday, 27th January 2016
Last updated on: Wednesday, 27th January 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.
All our alternative formats are free for you to download, for more information about the different formats we offer please see our FAQs. The most frequently used are Word (for accessibility), PDF (for print) and ePub and Kindle to download to eReaders*.
- Word (7 MB)
- PDF (1.6 MB)
- ePub 3.0 (4.7 MB)
- ePub 2.0 (4.7 MB)
- Kindle (3.9 MB)
- RSS (409 KB)
- HTML (5.1 MB)
- SCORM (5.1 MB)
- OUXML Package (46 KB)
- OUXML File (159 KB)
- IMS Common cartridge
- Moodle backup (5.4 MB)
*Please note you will need an ePub and Mobi reader for these formats.