Lesson 4.2: Photographic & Video Documentation

Visual information is crucial in order to document art works, especially folk art. This documentation can take the form of still photographs in black and white or color, or videotape.


A television news team documents the Smithsonian Festival with an on-site report.

Many students have access to still or video cameras through home or school with which to practice their skills. But first, they need to be directed in some of the most effective uses of both still and moving images. This lesson uses the photographs reproduced in these educational materials and the video to cue students to the uses of documentary images. It also provides information about the technical aspects of photographing and videotaping.

Still photographs and film/video shots for visual documentation can be categorized as follows:

Portrait: provides an illustration of the artist and musician; can be individual or group;

Detail (close-up) shot: illustrates minute features of an art or technique;

Photographic illustration: generally a photograph of an object that is arranged by the photographer;

Hand study: a photograph commonly used by experts to show how tools are used and held;

Context (or set) shot (posed, or natural): shows the subject person or object in a context, e.g., workshop, performance venue, or home. The former is posed, the latter is “natural”—i.e., unobtrusive.

In preparation for the lesson, use five photographs from the handout and photocopy them for the class. Choose a video segment from Segment 4 of Profiles. Make sure it is an “action” segment and not a “talking head.” Cue the segment with the sound of the television monitor turned off.


Folklife Background

Documentation of an object is important. But just as important for scholars and experts is documentation of the process of how the object is made and used. This generally includes capturing the actions of the makers and the social and physical settings in which the object is used. Photography can also be used to elicit stories and descriptions from people who are interviewed (by using the photos as a prompt for memory and narrative).


| Next

Students will be able to:
1. Identify ways of visually documenting folk art, artistic processes, and their contexts.
2. Demonstrate ways of acquiring visual images.
3. Generally operate a still camera and video recorder.
4. Properly record and log visual images.

Cross References

Instructional Program:

Prairie Voices Lesson:
Fine Arts and Culture, The Art and Soul of the Land