Students will work with a gray value scale using light and shadows to create a dynamic composition.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- mix values of gray from black to white;
- experiment with shadows and light;
- plan and create a dynamic composition; and
- demonstrate appropriate painting technique and craftsmanship.
- Show students Garry Winogrand’s photograph Los Angeles. Ask them to describe what they see. Keep pushing them to find more; there is a lot going on in this picture. Share information from About the Art and point out details from the “Details” section.
- Point out that the image appears to be stark black and white upon first glance, but if you look closely you can see many shades of gray in between. It is a value scale from almost pure white to solid black. Discuss with students how the artist uses light and shadows in the composition. What area of the photograph are your eyes drawn to first? Why do you think that is? How does the light draw your eyes to that place? What about the shadows of the ladies’ legs in the bottom of the picture? The light in the photograph draws your attention and as you look around the picture, you begin to see many shades from light gray to dark gray to black. The line of the shadows leads you back to the light in the center.
- Tell students that they will work with a gray value scale and with light and shadows to create a painted composition inspired by Winogrand’s photo Los Angeles. Have them work in groups of two and arrange objects or people in front of a studio light, flashlight, or direct sunlight so that a dynamic shadow is cast onto 12x18-inch piece of paper suitable for painting. Each partner will take turns holding the light or objects while the other student traces their shadow composition.
- The next day students will work in the same groups to mix paints according to a gray value scale with white, light, medium light, medium, medium dark, dark, and black shades. Always start with the lightest color first and then add the darker color slowly. It is easier to make a color darker than it is to make it lighter. Make sure students make enough paint for both students and store it in plastic cups with lids. Alternatively, you may want to have younger students watch you mix the colors. You can then store enough paint for the whole class in large plastic containers with lids and hand out paint as needed.
- Instruct students to paint the black-and-white compositions that they traced the previous day. They should be careful to not lose the effect of the shadows and light on the overall design.
- After the paintings are dry, students can title their work and share in a class critique.
- About the Art section on Los Angeles
- Color copies of Los Angeles for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- White and black tempera paint
- Plastic bowls or cups with lids
- Popsicle sticks to mix paint
- Brushes and water bowls
- Newsprint or other paper to cover work areas
- Pencils or other drawing implements for tracing shadows
- 12x18-inch heavy paper for painting
- Objects that cast interesting shadows
- Flashlights or access to direct sunlight or another light source that will cast a strong shadow
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
About the Art
Who Made It?
Garry Winogrand (WIN-uh-grand)was born in New York City in 1928. After serving eighteen months in the Air Force during World War II, he enrolled at the City College of New York under the GI Bill, which provided college tuition for veterans returning from the war. He then transferred to Columbia University to study painting. Winogrand was already enamored of cameras, and at Columbia a friend introduced him to the darkroom and the process of photography. Within two weeks he abandoned painting and never looked back.
After three years at Columbia, Winogrand enrolled in photojournalism classes at the New School for Social Research in New York City. In 1952 he began his career as a freelance photojournalist and advertising photographer, and his work regularly appeared in magazines like Collier’s and Sports Illustrated. He had his first solo exhibition in 1960, and in the ‘60s and ‘70s Winogrand received three Guggenheim Fellowships and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He began teaching in 1969 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later taught at the University of Texas at Austin.
What Inspired It?
Central to Winogrand's philosophy was that a photograph is about only itself—not about the life or motivations of the subject or the photographer, and not about how the photo came to be. "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed," he said. "In the end, maybe the correct language would be how the fact of putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it."
Winogrand went through great quantities of film. He developed all his own film and when he made prints of his photos, he accepted assistance from a trusted friend who was a good printer. But Winogrand wasn't interested in talking about the equipment he used or how he composed a shot: "I’ll say this, I’m pretty fast with a camera when I have to be. However, I think it’s irrelevant. I mean, what if I said that every photograph I made was set up? From the photograph, you can’t prove otherwise. You don’t know anything from the photograph about how it was made, really…You’ve got to deal with how photographs look, what’s there, not how they’re made. Even with what camera."
Winogrand shot many thousands of photographs, and those he chose to print often contained humor or irony, diverse gestures and expressions, people in motion, public settings, and an erratic energy that spoke to the complexity of American life in the late 1900s. He found inspiration in the photographs taken by Walker Evans and Robert Frank, also photographers of American life.
Winogrand liked using a wide angle lens because it allowed him to capture a lot of visual activity. Notice all the different elements in this photograph: a busy street, urban architecture, purposefully striding women, detailed reflections in the windows, a crowded bus stop, a man slumped in a wheelchair, and foreground elements like the sidewalk shadows and street sign.
Women were a favorite subject for Winogrand. “I suspect that I respond to their energies, how they stand and move their bodies and faces. In the end, the photographs are descriptions of poses or attitudes that give an idea, a hint of their energies.”
Glances and posture create a sense of narrative in this photograph. The man slumped in his wheelchair holds a cup between his knees to collect change from passers-by. The three women approaching him are just starting to react. The woman in white is looking at him and appears to be steering wide to avoid contact. The other two women are just noticing him and seem to be shifting their paths accordingly (notice, incidentally, how their strides look like they’ll follow their respective paths of light).
The older woman who stands directly opposite the man in the wheelchair has her back to the camera and her hand on her hip, with her attention down the street as she watches for the bus. She may or may not have noticed the man sitting there, but she appears to be as intent on avoiding him as the women on the sidewalk.
Notice the young boy sitting on the edge of the bench at the right of the scene. He peers around the back of the bench at the man in the wheelchair, whom everyone else is doing their best to ignore. He sits quietly waiting for the bus, his feet not reaching the ground, absentmindedly scratching at his hand. The boy’s mouth hangs slightly ajar, and he shows a distinctly childish and open sense of curiosity.
The star at the bottom edge of the picture is cut off, but there’s enough to be recognizable as one of the stars that honor big names in show business on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The name on this star is not shown, which eliminates the distraction that specificity might cause, and allows the viewer to identify the location only in general terms.
The star directly in front of the women's feet has the name of Louella Parsons (1881–1978), a gossip columnist, who actually has two Walk of Fame stars, one for her work in radio and one for motion pictures (this is the one for radio). This star is also difficult to see in the photograph—DAM Master Teacher Lisa Steffen had to turn the picture upside-down and increase the contrast to make out the name.
The three women walking down the street are backlit, but the beams of light give their walk an aura of Hollywood magic—the beams could bring to mind a red carpet, or searchlights crossing in the sky, or spotlights on the stage.
At the bottom center of the picture, light coming from two directions converges on a star in the sidewalk. The light from the right side is sunlight streaming around the tall building in the upper right. That same light hits the store window behind the three women and bounces off, creating the second stream of light. Long, late afternoon shadows from both directions create additional layers and patterns.
Winogrand’s style of photographing in public places meant he usually chose to work with available light. Besides the two diagonal streams of light, notice the bright reflection on the building to the left, the softly sunlit background, and the glow on the hip of the woman at the bus stop (created by a reflection off something outside the frame). Also note that none of the human figures are situated in direct light.
The photographer’s angle makes it hard to match up the reflections in the windows on the left with the scene on the street. You can see a reflection of a street bench, but it’s not the same bench you see in the foreground of the picture—it’s the one further back by the tree. And there’s a man you can see in the reflection who you can’t see on the sidewalk.
Winogrand often composed photos at unconventional angles. He pointed out the arbitrary expectation that horizon lines must be parallel to the horizontal edge of the frame, and wouldn’t accept that limitation on his freedom to arrange form in a picture. He often tried tilting his camera in different directions, seeking the best effect. The tilted perspective can have varying results, sometimes emphasizing a particular element in a scene, sometimes allowing something into the frame, sometimes making the subject seem off-kilter, sometimes giving a picture a complex or unexpected sense of balance.
Don’t miss how the shape of the trees echoes the shape of the beehive hairdos on the three women. DAM photography curator Eric Paddock refers to this effect as “visual alliteration.”