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Can a photograph tell us about relationships between different people?

This photograph shows prisoners cutting grass at Wormwood Scrubs in London in around 1900. Various parts of the 'Scrubs' were built using prison labour between 1874 and 1891. Note that the uniforms of the inmates still bear their characteristic arrows.

Prisoners cutting grass at Wormwood Scrubs in London in around 1900
Prisoners cutting grass at Wormwood Scrubs in London in around 1900 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive. Ref: BB73/07077

Teaching idea

Ask pupils to look carefully at the photograph. Look at how the people are standing, what they are doing and what they are wearing. You may like to put the photograph up on an interactive whiteboard and use the zoom and highlight functions to help pupils pick out some of the details, such as the arrows on the mens' clothes. Discuss the image as a class or in small groups. Then ask them to answer the question above by annotating a copy of the photograph or using speech bubbles/captions to show the relationships. This could also be done using the speech/thought bubbles on an interactive whiteboard.

Learning aims and outcomes

  • Suggest ideas about why images were made and what they show about the people in them
  • Say what they think and feel about images

Prior knowledge

  • No prior knowledge is required as the activity is observation based

Extended learning and useful links

  • This task could be extended by looking at issues around bias and why photographs are taken/pictures are painted

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