Sense of Place landscapes, environments, Meaning and narrative

"Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer - and often the supreme disappointment" - Ansel Adams

"Photography is a kind of virtual reality, and it helps if you can create the Illusion of being in an interesting world" - Steven Pinker

"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still." - Dorthea Lange

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place...I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them" - Elliot Erwit

SFMOMA photography:

Ansel Adams, Half Dome, Thunder Cloud, from Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley, CA 1956; printed 1959 gelatin silver print
Len Jenshel, Yosemite National Park, California 1986 - chromogengic print
Joe Deal, View Magic Mountain, Valencia, CA, 1977 ; gelatin silver print
Victor Landweber, Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, CA, 1979; dye destruction print
William A. Garnett, Lakewood Housing Project [six views], 1950 ; six gelatin silverprints
Angela Buenning FILO, Trinity Park Development "From the Upper $500,000" , Alviso, June 2001 from the series Silicon Valley, 2001 ; chromogengic prints
Robert Flick, Along Ocean Park, Looking West, Summer 1980 f gelatin silver print
Anthony Hernandez, Public Transit Area #45 (3rd and Vermont Ave, Los Angeles), 1980 ;gelatin silver print
Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, Above Lake Tenaya, Connecting Views from Edward Weston and Edward Muybridge, Yosemite Project 2001; inkjet print

Lesson Plan:


Having already completed the Introduction to Elements/Principles of Art/Design in Photography Exercises/Project, students will now examine, analyze, and discuss a series of photographs from SFMOMA's photography collection, that focus on the meaning and narrative that comes from a sense of place. The photographs include landscapes and urban environments, close up shots, as well as aerial shots. The inclusion of humans in some of the shots is not meant to take away from the emphasis on having students trying to focus on the feeling or narrative that is generated in the photos from the location, environment, or structures in the scene.

Goals and Objectives:

  • Students will be able to understand the ways in which landscapes and environments can be represented or presented in a single photograph or series of photos, or in a unique arrangement
  • Students will be able to understand and analyze how composition choices, framing, cropping, or arranging can have an impact on the narrative, emotional, or psychological impact of a photograph.
  • Students will be able to analyze and understand a photograph for the photographer's intention, as well as identify the design and visual elements and choices at work and how they reinforce the artist's intentions.
  • Students will be able to select a photographic approach similar to one of those in the series and create their own series or project with a focus on a natural or urban environment, that elicits a strong narrative or psychological impact. The series of photos or project will be accompanied by an artist statement that summarizes their goal and vision.

Materials and Resources

  • Use this Slate Project as the visual reference for the classroom presentation of project, artists, and imagery, and the links to additional resources
  • Copy, save, and print enough copies of the SFMOMA photographs to distribute equal numbers to the individual students or groups.
  • Digital Camera/Phone Camera access for all students.
  • Google Drive/Dropbox access for students.

Project Timeframe:

  • This lesson plan contains two parts. The first activity described in day one can be utilized as a stand alone activity, or done in connection and preparation for the photography assignment described in days two, three, and four.

Day One:

  • Pass out the Sense of Place Worksheet and having made 3-5 copies of all the above nine images, mix them up and distribute them to the students as they enter the classroom. Some of the images may work easier for students who may struggle with less literal and figurative narration/content.
  • Complete the Do Now on the worksheet: Have students write down and be prepared to share a statement about what they most like about photography, and how it impacts themselves or others around them.
  • Preview the series of photographs with the students, taking a minute or two to touch on unique qualities of each image in terms of composition, feeling, or sense of story. Is it the view, the subject, the choice of how images are arranged? What impact does it have or create upon first look?
  • Provide the students about 25-30 minutes to complete the individual tasks sections: Description, Analysis, Interpretation, Evaluation, and Additional Research.
  • Now have students get into a group with the other students who also have the same photographic reproduction, and have them share and discuss their initial observations and questions. Have them write down two or three new things they learned from the others in the group about the artist or the artwork.
  • Have a representative from each group share key findings and new information.
  • Give students additional time to individually complete sections, and revisit the Slate site for review. Review the considerations for selecting an artist style or approach, and clarify.
  • Collect assignments pon return

Day Two: Assignment (One Week)

  1. Do Now: Review the images from the previous day's activities together on projector. Ask students to select a photograph or arrangement style that they like and are interested in using in their own photography project and have them explain what it is they like about that photo or arrangement in terms of psychology or narrative, and why they are interested in trying it? Select random students to have share out there choices and reasons.
  2. Assignment: Sense of Place - Having viewed and discussed many photographs/projects that focus on various places, environments, and viewpoints both natural/urban and considered the story, narrative, and design/composition choices, it is now your task to pick a similar approach and presentation style. In the next week take a minimum of thirty photos to work with and from. Post the photos to Instagram or to your Google Drive or DropBox, to have accessible for viewing, discussion, and selection.

Day Three/Four:

  1. Students and teacher will meet to review photographs, and discuss work, selections.
  2. While teacher is meeting with students to discuss selections, and choices, other students should be working on writing an artist statement/vision that explains what the outcome of their photographs/display reveals in terms of the psychology or narrative created by the environment.

For CAST Students, final presentation will take place in two parts.

  1. Students will create an Adobe ID and login to the Adobe Slate site for review of the tools and various layout options available. If necessary, demonstrate the basics of uploading images, adding headers, text, and links.
  2. Students will create an Adobe Slate Project that contains at least 15 of the series of photos that they took and a description and/or quotes for each photo that supports their theme. The Slate project should have a creative title, contain an introduction or foreword with their artist vision/statement explaining their choice of subject matter, artist, and what meaning or narrative they developed out of the series.
  3. Printing, mounting, and display of photographs/project with typed and mounted artist/vision statement
  4. As a group view, share, and discuss the photos/projects each student created. Identify the psychological impact or narrative the work implies. Identify and discuss what visual elements or principles are helping to generate the feeling or narrative.
  5. Have students use the Sense of Place worksheet/questions to evaluate at least one classmates final photograph in depth.

Sense of Place Worksheet/Questions

  • Description (A list of what you see, elements: line, shape, forms, color, value, texture, space, objects, details, space, size, process):
  • Analysis (How is the composition arranged or organized? Identify and describe the principles; balance, movement, pattern, contrast, unity, rhythm.):
  • Interpretation (What psychological impact does this work have on you? What is the feeling or story being evoked? Visually identify what is conveying the feeling or telling the story.):
  • Judgement (Do you like this photograph/project? Is it successful in its intentions? If so, how? If not, why? Support your decision with three supporting pieces of evidence.):

California visual arts standards

  • 1.3 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
  • 2.3 Develop and refine skill in the manipulation digital imagery (either still or video)
  • 4.4 Articulate the process and rationale for refining and reworking one of their own works of art.

Examples of Student Photography and Adobe Slate Projects

Created By
Jeff Larson


Created with images by Feans - "Praia de Razo" • Stephen A. Wolfe - "Cityscape 3" • FDR Presidential Library & Museum - "71-127" • geralt - "woman camera hand"

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