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Be Objective When Using Photographs


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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 Learn to be Objective When Using Historical Photographs as Data

As with any source, it is important to be aware of the possible biases both you and the photographer may bring into the interpretive process.  Through various techniques, such as cropping, retouching, and the use of props, photographs often represent a selective reality. Can you think of where and how the picture below may have been altered?

color man 

Photographic technology must also be considered when interpreting historic photos. Because of the long exposure time for glass plate negatives and the slowness of the camera lens in early photography, it was necessary for those being photographed to be very still - often resulting in stern expressions and rigid postures.  Not knowing this, what type of mood do you think the people below were in? How do their expressions and composure differ from portrait pictures taken today?



In addition, having your photograph taken in the 19th Century was, for most, an event in itself. Those posing often wanted to represent as much of a positive image of themselves as possible. In what ways might the above couple have put forth their "best"? Would you say that this is an accurate representation of what they wear everyday? How do you put forth your "best" when having your picture professionally taken?



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