Visual Messages: Creating a Photomontage
How do we best communicate the rich and complex visual world captured on a two-dimensional surface? In this lesson, students will manipulate photographs by cutting, reassembling, and adding two-dimensional materials, such as text, maps, charts, documents, notes, and drawings. Using essays and photos provided by Peace Corps Volunteers, students will create a photomontage that is calculated to focus attention or alter viewers' attitudes regarding environmental issues in the United States and Africa. While creating the photomontage, students will be challenged not to ask the question "What do I see a photograph of?"but to ask, "What is the photograph about?"
Five to seven 45-minute classes (Length of project depends upon complexity of photomontage)
Visual arts, language arts
9–12 (May be adapted for upper elementary and middle school)
How can a photograph distort reality?
How is art used to influence the thoughts and beliefs of people?
Examining Photomontages (PDF or RTF)
Water: A Source of Life in Africa (PDF or RTF)
Water: A Source of Life in America (PDF or RTF)
Web of Comparison (PDF or RTF)
Photomontage Critique (PDF or RTF)
Evaluation of the Photomontage (PDF or RTF)
Magazines and books that contain photos relating to the topic
Newspapers or other materials that contain printed text
Access to Internet or copies of photos from Water in Africa website
12"x18" cardboard or heavy weight paper
Visual Arts Standard 1. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts
Benchmark—Understands how the communication of ideas relates to the media, techniques, and processes one uses
Visual Arts Standard 3. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts
Benchmark—Applies various subjects, symbols, and ideas in one's artworks
Visual Arts Standard 5. Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others
Benchmark—Understands how various interpretations can be used to understand and evaluate works of visual art
Language Arts Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Benchmark—Synthesizes a variety of types of visual information, including pictures and symbols, for research topics
Benchmark—Considers the motives, credibility, and perspectives of the authors of primary sources
Students will Compare how water is used in their life and the lives of Africans. Find one comparison and develop a question that the photomontage will address.
Present visual data calculated to alter viewers' attitudes.
A day or two before introducing the lesson have each student bring in one photograph from home.
1. Introduce the lesson with these points: We are trained from an early age that when we look at a photograph we must see something—a best friend, a new car, a summer vacation. Since birth we have looked at thousands of photographs from magazines, family photo albums, newspapers, or CD covers and as we look we constantly ask ourselves "What do I see?" Do you ever stop and ask yourself while you're looking at a photograph, "What do I feel?" or "What is this image about?"
2. Write the phrase "One picture is worth a thousand words" on the board and have students discuss the meaning. Is the phrase accurate? Can one argue against it?
3. Have students describe the photograph they brought to class. The description should answer these questions:
- What is happening in the photograph?
- What was happening before the photograph was taken?
- What happened after the photograph was taken?
- If there are people in the picture, what were they feeling and thinking at the time?
- Why was the photograph taken?
- What title would you give the photograph?
4. Place students in pairs and have them exchange photographs. Instruct each of the students to look at their partner's photograph and share their responses to the same questions listed in #3, above.
5. After students have responded, ask them to write descriptions of their partner's photo. Have them exchange written descriptions with their partner and discuss any misunderstandings between what the viewer observed in the photograph and what actually occurred. Have students report their discussions with the class.
6. During the discussion, raise these questions:
- Is the photo telling the truth?
- Is the photo telling the full story?
- Is the photo manipulating or limiting the true story of someone's life or an event?
- Can a single two-dimensional image communicate an entire story?
- What are the limitations of photographs?
- Did misunderstandings occur in viewing the photographs? If so, why?
7. Homework: Have students respond to the essential question:
"How can a photograph distort reality?"
1. Ask students to report and support their responses to the homework question. Record their responses on the board.
2. Introduce students to the definition of photomontage: the manipulation of photographs by cutting and reassembling them and adding two-dimensional materials: text, maps, charts, documents, notes, and drawings as a way of enhancing or altering reality.
3. Show students three examples of photomontages. Provide these as handouts or project them on overhead transparencies. Examples can be found in the resources listed at the end of the lesson plan.
4. Tell students that while they are viewing a variety of photomontages they should respond to the following questions from the handout Examining Photomontages. (PDF or RTF):
What images do you see? (photos, drawings, text, color)
What is the work trying to communicate?
Does a photomontage improve a viewers understanding of a subject? Explain your answers.
5. Ask students to share their responses with the class.
6. For homework have students respond to the essential question: "How can the art form of photomontage be used to influence the thoughts and beliefs of people?"
Days 3 and 4
1. Ask students to share their responses to the homework question and discuss any differences of opinion.
2. Inform students that they will research information from contemporary photographs and texts on issues of water and how water influences the daily lives of people in Africa and the United States. As artists they will take this information and transform the photographs and texts into photomontages.
3. Introduce students to the Water in Africa website. If Internet access is not available to students, provide them with printouts of materials from selected countries on the Water in Africa website. You may want to concentrate on a specific country or region, or select countries from various regions of Africa.
4. Using the photos and essays provided in the Water in Africa website, have students collect information to use in their photomontage. Students may select one country or several countries from a specific region.
5. Ask the students to complete the country-specific handout "Water: A Source of Life in Africa" (PDF or RTF) while searching the site. The questions on the worksheet will help students understand the use of water in the daily lives of Africans.
6. Homework: Have students complete the handout "Water: A Source of Life in America (PDF or RTF). The questions on the handout will help students understand the use of water in their own daily lives.
1. Give students the Web of Comparison (PDF or RTF)chart. Tell them to use the chart to compare the responses to the questions they answered on the two worksheets, "Water, a Source of Life...." They should look for the similarities and differences between their own culture in the United States and their chosen country in Africa.
2. After completing the Web of Comparison chart, students should use the information on it to develop a concluding statement or question regarding water. The concluding statement or question will be the topic that their photomontage will address. For example, a statement might be "Water influences our daily activities" and a question might be "Is water a valuable resource to you?"
3. After students write their concluding statement or question, they should return to the Water in Africa website and begin collecting photos and text that they will use to support their concluding statement or question. If students do not have access to the Internet or printing, provide them with a selection of photos taken from the website. (If students are printing from the website, you might want to limit the number of photos to reduce printing costs.) Photos and text may also be selected from other resources.
4. The photomontage may be enhanced by using maps, phrases, single words, questions, color, parts of a photograph, or an entire photograph. Ask the students what words or graphics could be used to help communicate a message more clearly. If a student uses the concluding statement "Water influences our daily lives," the pictures and text must support the statement. The student will want to collect photos that show how water is used in different activities both in Africa and the United States. The photomontage could contrast differences or show similarities.
Day 6 and until completed
1. Monitor students as they continue to collect relevant photographs, text, and graphics.
2. After students have collected materials, they are ready to begin to design a layout for the photomontage. Tell them that materials can be placed anywhere on the paper, but remind them that the photomontage is one composition and not a selection of independent photos. Everything should connect and have a reason for being included. Irrelevant materials will distract from the message.
3. Throughout the process of creating the photomontages, continue to ask students these questions:
"One picture is worth a thousand words."—What is your picture communicating?
- What is your concluding statement or question?
- What is happening in the photomontage?
- What title would you give your photomontage? Does this title support your concluding statement or question?
- What are the relationships between the photos and words that you are using?
- What do you want your viewers to see and feel when they look at the photomontage?
4. Have students glue their photos and text to heavy weight paper or cardboard. After the materials have been attached to the surface, tell the students to evaluate their composition. Have them ask themselves:
- Is the composition complete?
- Do the photos and text support the message?
- Is something missing?
- What is needed to complete the composition?
5. At this point, students may attach additional resources or complete the composition by drawing or adding color into the work.
1. Have the students critique the artwork by writing about the content of a classmate's photomontage, following these steps:
Tell students to exchange photomontages.
Have each student critique the photomontage of a partner and complete the critique chart (PDF or RTF).
2. Instruct students to return the critique sheets to the student who created the work of art. Direct each student to read the critique of his or her photomontage. As a class, students should now discuss how they feel about the critique they received. Ask whether their messages were communicated to the viewers. If not, what caused the viewers not to understand? Would the students change anything in their montages?
3. Use the Evaluation Rubric (PDF or RTF) to evaluate the work of individual students.
Hang the photomontages in a prominent place in the school. Set up a way for viewers to write comments about the works of art that will go to the artist.
Ades , Dawn. Photomontage. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1976.
Lavin, Maud, and Hannah Hoch. Cut With the Kitchen Knife. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
About the Author
David McKoski teaches art and Chinese at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Chicago. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 1985 to 1987 and is a Peace Corps Fellows graduate from DePaul University's Urban Teacher Corps. After piloting this unit in his own classroom, he commented:
"This lesson is complex and it requires students to read and collect information, compare, and really think about what they are putting on paper. I wanted my students to understand how contemporary works of art are created. They need to understand that art also requires research. Although the lesson concentrated on the visual arts, I think students used skills that cross over into other areas. I hope the next time they look at photos, they will take a closer look at the message as well as the content."