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Frank Sadorus, Illinois Photographer
Sadorus, Illinois
The Sadorus Family
The Sadorus Farm
Frank Sadorus' Photography
Early 20th Century Photography
Photo Gallery
Resources & Activities
ISM System :Frank Sadorus, Photo Analysis Lesson

Analysis of a Historical Photograph Lesson

Objective: to retrieve social, cultural, and historical information from a photograph by analyzing the contents in the method described below.
Grade level: Middle School and up
Time Required: one to two class periods

: If one is researching an historical subject, such as family or town history, old photographs are one type of primary document that yields information about people, events, culture, and places. Armed with a set of questions, a researcher can glean information that complements, fills in, and enriches the written record.

ONLINE Collections: Sadorus Photograph Collection Double Exposure Photographic module
Other Sources: American Memory Project Lessons on Primary Source Use
Bial, Raymond. Upon a Quiet Landscape: The Photographs of Frank Sadorus. Urbana, Illinois, Champaign County Historical Archives, 1983. (Book and video) Henry S. Sadorus Life History Sadorus, Illinois Web pages with history and photo gallery.

Procedure: Guidelines for Analysis
1. Identify a photograph by inspection:
Is there any written identification such as a title, signature, date, or comment in or on the photographic print?
Where was the photograph found - family album, archival library, someone's estate, in a sale?
What clues, if any, does the source give you?
Using your knowledge or research information about the art or technology of photography, what do you discern may be the approximate date of the photo?
2. Identify the contents of the photographic composition by inspection:
Are there any people in the photograph? What are they doing? What are they wearing? Where are they? How are they interacting?
Is it a candid or posed composition?
3. Try to discern the purpose for the photograph:
Was it personal, to be published?
Does the photograph illustrate an event, an action, an occupation, a celebration?
Does it appear to be an amateur, a commercial or a professional photograph?
The paper on which it is printed or the frame or ablum the photgraph is in may give you clues.
4. Analyze the composition:
Divide the composition into several sections and list the objects in each section.
Classify the objects into types or categories (e.g., work and tools, family members and associated memorabilia).
Decide which details give historical or cultural meaning to the photograph and describe in words.
5. Interpret/Evaluate the photograph:
What, if any, deductions, inferences, specific information, or generalizations can you make about the subject of the photograph and the photograph as a whole as an historical document?
What questions for further research does the photograph prompt?
What cultural information does the photograph contain? Examples: humor ("Double Exposure of Warren"), pun ("I grew Up in the Corn Belt"), joke ("Warren Sadorus-Post No Bills Here"), drama, pose, action ("The Punkin Orchestra"), game ("April 18, 1910" depicts a coming snowball fight), sport, costume, custom ("Christmas Treats"), printed matter ("GWB Sadorus reading"), architecture ("Sadorus Home")

Assessment (Use of this analysis tool in research reports): This exercise is a learning tool in preparation for doing primary research. Students should feel comfortable after analyzing several photographs in this manner. Options for use of this information in their research: 1) use as an interpretive caption when including the photograph in their report; 2) integrate the information from the analysis directly as text; 3) use multiple images for cultural and historical interpretation or inferences.

Analysis should reflect the visible details of the photograph and be backed up with written material when possible. (For example, for "The Card Players," What card games were popular in 1910? Which game does the hands and discard motions indicate it might be? Research rules of games.)

Illinois State Board of Education Standards:
Social Science 18: A. Compare characteristics of culture as reflected in language, literature, the arts, traditions and institutions.

Middle School: 18.A.3 Explain how language, literature, the arts, architecture and traditions contribute to the development and transmission of culture.
Early High School: 18.A.4 Analyze the influence of cultural factors including customs, traditions, language, media, art and architecture in developing pluralistic societies.
Late High School: 18.A.5 Compare ways in which social systems are affected by political, environmental, economic and technological changes.
18.B. Understand the roles and interactions of individuals and groups in society.
Middle School: 18.B.3a
Analyze how individuals and groups interact with and within institutions (e.g., educational, military). 18.A.3b Explain how social institutions contribute to the development and transmission of culture.

Worksheet for Photographic Analysis:































Origin and/or written information










Analysis and Evaluation Notes:









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