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Exploring the history of photojournalism


In this two-day lesson, students will work in groups to fill in the blanks on a photojournalism timeline and begin to make sense of photojournalism’s unique and complicated history.  Then, students will have the opportunity to work in groups to explore a specific section of photojournalism’s history and make an informal presentation to the class about their findings.


  • Students will understand the basic factors that influenced photojournalism’s history.
  • Students will be able to explain several of these factors to other students.
  • Students will be able to conduct mini research projects on topics about photojournalism, evaluate sources for their accuracy, and present what they’ve learned concisely to others.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a  standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


90 minutes (Two 45-minute class periods)


Computers or other means of searching for information electronically

Slips of paper that include group topics on them & pre-arranged groups

Class set: Photography timeline (without dates)

Photography timeline (with dates)

Group presentation rubric

Lesson step-by-step

[For the two-week and four-week units, shorten this lesson to one class period by asking students to complete the photojournalism timeline as a homework assignment.]

1. Activity — 45 minutes

The first full day of class, students should work with a partner to try to complete the photojournalism timeline.  They may use online search engines to try to fill in the dates for each of the elements on the timeline.  *Depending on time, teacher may choose to have students finish this for homework and collect the following day, or use as a formative assessment tool and allow students to self-check.

Note: Some websites and sources give slightly different dates for some of these events.  I stress to my students that understanding the process of how photography has developed is more important than having exactly the right dates.

2. Group research — 25 minutes

Split students up into groups and assign topics (there are eight topics listed below, but depending on class size, you could assign the same topic to multiple groups or develop additional groups based on timeline information).  Give students time to: 1) research their topic online, 2) prepare a short 1-minute explanation of their topic, and 3) use an online citation-creating resource (such as CitationMachine, EasyBib, or BibMe) to develop and print an MLA-style citation for the resources they used.

Group research topics:

Group 1: Camera Obscura (when was it created? what did it do? who was involved with its creation?)

Group 2: Louis Daguerre (when did he live? what was he best known for? what is a daguerrotype?)

Group 3: William Henry Fox Talbot (who was he? what was he best known for? what is a calotype?)

Group 4: Mathew Brady & Alexander Gardner (what did they do? what controversy surrounds Gardner?)

Group 5: Eadweard Muybridge (who was he? what was he best known for? how has his work affected different types of art?)

Group 6: Carol Szathmari (who was he? what was he best known for? how did this affect the history of photojournalism?)

Group 7: Dorothea Lange (who was she? what was she best known for? what did she have to do with the Farm Security Administration?)

Group 8: George Eastman (who was he?  what is he best known for? his company is responsible for what major innovations?)

3. Share — 15-20 minutes

Have groups share out with their classmates about what they learned.  Teacher should fill out the grading rubric as students present.

4. Think-pair-share — 5 minutes

Either as a class, or with a student close to them, respond to the following question: What three aspects of the history of photojournalism do you think are most important to us today?


Students will be assessed formatively on the completion of the timeline and their think-pair-share about the important aspects of photojournalism.  Summative assessment occurs in the mini-presentations that are done in groups, but the main summative assessment will occur at the quiz at the end of the unit.


Students who are more advanced may have time to look into further detail about items on the timeline and be able to explain them rather than just know when they happened.  Students who are more advanced or have a knowledge of photography should also be given the more complicated group topics (Camera Obscura, Talbot, Daguerre).

For students who struggle, it may be wise to narrow down the number of topics that they need to find dates for – perhaps splitting the dates up with a partner and then exchanging information.  Students who struggle should also be given the more straightforward group topics (Brady/Gardner, Kodak, Szathmari).