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This is a list of ideas. The possibilities are endless.

What do you see in this image?
Where is this event/activity/scene taking place?
When is this event/activity/scene taking place?
Who are these people? Can you find clues as to where they live, the kind of work they do, what they do for fun etc.?
What do their facial expressions and body language reveal about how they might feel?
Do you think the people in the image are related to each other?
What do you think happened in the seconds, minutes, days, years before this image was taken?
What do you think happened in the next minute/hour/day/year after this was taken?
Are there buildings or structures in the image? What are they used for?
Is there something in the image that you don’t recognize? What could it be?
Artistically, how has the photographer used light, shade, shape, texture, scale and line? Does that affect the historical information we might take from the image?
What is outside the frame of the image? In other words, what don’t you see that is around the edges of this scene?
What do you see in the background? Middle ground? Foreground?
What is in or out of focus in the image? Are we supposed to look into the background?
What might the image look like if it was taken from a different angle- above, below, behind, to the left, to the right, zoomed in or out?
Relating to the image as a viewer
Have you been here?
Have you done this activity?
Do you wear the same clothes today?
Is this how you get around San Diego today?
Compare/contrast to aspects of today- clothes, cars, buildings, activities…
How does the image make you feel?
What would it be like to be this person/one of the people in the image? What would your life be like? What work would you do? What would you do for fun?
What do you think it sounds like and smells like in this scene?
Does this remind you of anything else in your life or that we have studied in class?
Did this image turn out to be of something or mean something other than what you thought it did at first?
What do you want to learn more about?
Point of view
What is the photographer trying to show you?
Why did the photographer choose this particular moment to take the picture and not right before or after?
Do you think this image was taken for personal use or to be published?
Could it have been used to persuade people about something?
Was this candid or posed?
In a studio or in out in the field?
What might the subject and the photographer have talked about before and after the image was taken?
Could certain things have been left out that would change the image?
Might the photographer have made changes to the quality of the image in the darkroom by lightening it, darkening it, cropping it…? What would change in the meaning or message of the image if it was changed from the way it looks now?
Are there other meanings or messages the image gives?
Could the clues in this image be purposefully unclear as to when and where it took place and who the people are?
Historic value
Why has this image been saved? Why is it in a museum collection?
How are images preserved by families and museums?
What would be lost if this image was thrown away?
Why was this event/activity/location important?
Is someone alive today who might remember this happening/doing this?
Did the photographer ever think someone in a hundred years would be looking at this image, the way you are doing now?
What if photography had never been invented?
How do we know what we know about history before photography was invented?
The Reality of photographs
Do photographs always tell “the truth”?
How real are photographs? (See Composition and Point of View)
Was the world black and white in the past?
Because this image is black and white, does that mean automatically it is old?
Why do we still take black and white images today?
What aspects of an image does the photographer have control over?
How has the existence of digital photography and editing changed the way we look at photographs?
How might it be in the future?
What is a caption and what does it tell us?
If a caption is incomplete, how can we find more information about the image?
Why might a caption be incomplete?
If there is no date in the caption, how might we be able tell when the image was taken?
What caption would you write for this image?
Would that change depending on what you were using the image for?
Might the same image have many possible captions?

For more information about the HELP Program, please contact the San Diego Historical Society’s Education Department at: