"A picture is worth a thousand words."

In this exercise you will demonstrate the meaning of this common phrase and explore American society. At the turn of the century, photographers documented the changes in America with great detail. Particularly famous are some of the photos that Jacob Riis and others took of the urban poor in cities like New York. Their photos delivered messages about the lives of their subjects that words never could.

Your task, with the benefit of historical hindsight, is to "deconstruct" the photos and to describe the historical, social, economic and cultural details found in one of these photos.

Using information from what you have previously learned, from your textbook, and from your notes choose ten different details in a photo and describe what the details say about the photo's subject.

Look at items such as clothing, age, gender, surroundings, etc. and describe what the conditions and life of the subject, person or people in the photo were.

In your descriptions you can describe what the person's past, present or future might be. Take a guess on where they might have come from; what type of work they may do; what education, language, skills, or ideas the person may have, etc. Who did these people turn to for help or guidance? Which social or political movements represented them or were threatened by them? What laws were passed to help them? What did they have to look forward to? What did they have to fear? How would their world change between 1865 and 1917?

Don't make wild guesses. A newspaper boy in 1900 probably did not go to school or play on a football team. A little girl did not like to play with Barbie Dolls (they were introduced in the 1960s.) Use information from the text or other sources to make educated assumptions about the circumstances in the photograph.


1. Tape your photo to a piece of poster-sized paper.

2. Describe in two or three sentences each of the 10 details on a separate sheet of paper.

3. Write the details of the deconstructed photo on the poster and then label the parts of the photo you are describing with numbers or lines.

4. Put a creative headline along the top that aptly describes your photo.