What's the real story?!
We are surrounded by images. Often, images are accompanied by words. Does having a caption with a photograph influence what we think is happening in the image? In this activity, students pick the caption they feel best describes what is really taking place in the photograph. Students learn that captions and viewer expectations do influence what we see or read into an image.
Note to teachers:
Any image on the Picture This Web site may be utilized for this activity. Utilize the two sample images below first to get a sense of how the Caption Puzzle activity works, and then choose as many of the images from the Picture This Web site as you would like. Images that are somewhat ambiguous work best. (For each additional image chosen, teachers will write two fake captions, which will be presented to students along with the"real" or provided caption. For each image, teachers will read all three captions, and then will students pick the caption they feel best describes what is happening in the photograph.)
Length of Activity varies, depending on how many images are viewed. Plan on spending 15–20 minutes per image.
Materials: Images from Picture This Web site
Click on each image below to enlarge. Then print out images for use with your class in discussion:
- Present Picture This reproductions one at a time to your students. No caption should accompany the image. Read your students the caption choices and ask them to guess which caption they think belongs to each image. After the students have shared their ideas about which caption "fits" the photograph, ask them:
- What did you see in the picture that makes you say that?
- What are the visual clues you noticed that make you think that particular caption goes with that picture?
After adequate discussion, share the caption provided for the image on the Picture This Web site. (For the two sample images, please see Caption Key below. The caption marked with the ** is the one provided on the Picture This Web site.) In your discussion with your students, do not refer to the caption provided as the "right" one. Make sure you emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers - all interpretations are valid. This exercise demonstrates that photographs can have many different meanings to different people, and that the meaning of a photograph is not always obvious or self evident.
- Image One:
- On a hot summer day in 1947, these spectators watch the final moments of a tense baseball game. Some fans are yelling in disapproval at the umpire because they don't like a call he made.
- Entertainer Paul Robeson sings to laborers working at the racially integrated Moore Shipyards in Oakland, California, on September 21, 1942. **
- A mournful crowd gathers to watch the funeral procession of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. drive past.
- Image Two:
*American First Class seamen display scraps from a Japanese ship that was blown up and destroyed by missiles fired from a submarine they commanded.
- World War II sailors look in disgust at food rations, which have hardened into rock-like structures.
- Three First Class seamen stationed at Port Chicago examine the shrapnel remaining from the infamous 1944 explosion that killed 320 sailors. **
Reminder to teachers: The caption marked with the ** is the one provided on the Picture This Web site.
- Image One:
Next, ask your students how the experience of choosing captions was for them. Guide the discussion with questions such as:
- Did it seem that all captions could fit the image, or did some captions make more sense than others?
- Did hearing three captions about the same image make it more confusing to figure out what was really happening in the picture? Why or why not?
Conclude the lesson by discussing how words may sway how we think about picture. Captions help us "pin down" meaning when looking at an image that may be confusing or not clear. Captions and viewer expectations do influence what we see or read into an image.
Click on links below to see captions provided by historians, and additional background information on what is happening in the photograph:
Ask students to cut out pictures they find interesting (and slightly ambiguous or mysterious) in the local newspaper. Students should save the caption but keep it separate from the image when sharing the picture with the class. Have the rest of the class guess what the caption might be. How many different ideas does your class have about the same photograph? After discussion, the presenter shares the provided caption with the class.
- Caption: the short title or description that accompanies images or illustrations.
- Context: the setting, situation, background, or environment in which something appears. Contexts for photographs include newspapers, print advertisements, galleries, and museums.
- Interpret: to explain the meaning of, make understandable, to give one's own conception of a work of art.