Visual Literacy Defined
Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture.
"Visual Literacy Defined," from the ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.
Visual literacy in practice
This module will give you the opportunity to practice the third standard from the ACRL Visual Literacy Guidelines:
"The visually literate student interprets and analyzes the meanings of images and visual media."
What does this skill actually look like in practice in your classroom, in your own research, or in your creative practice?
What questions do you have about the image or the creator? Continue your research by finding other resources about the image. The creator's own words or other scholarly interpretations can provide additional context about the creation, intention, and interpretation of the image. You can use this additional information to build on your own interpretation.
To complete these exercise, please select one of the photographer sets below. Each set includes a link to a photograph and a related text; please note that some resources may require that you log in with your UMBC campus affiliation.
Photograph: Berenice Abbott. Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn, 1936. Available to view in the UMBC Special Collections, call number P75-07-006. Available online at https://www.moma.org/collection/works/44191
Text, read paragraphs 1-8: D’AMBROSIO, BRIAN. 2018. “AN INDEPENDENT VISION: The Life of Berenice Abbott.” History Magazine 19 (5): 14–16. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=khh&AN=129937660&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Photograph: "Wading Pool in Front of Home on Duncan Street," Elinor B. Cahn (1979). Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P82-11-002. Available online at http://contentdm.ad.umbc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16629coll12/id/81
Text: Foreword, Preface, and Introduction from Neighborhood: A State of Mind by Linda G. Rich, Joan Clark Netherwood, Elinor B. Cahn. PDF linked below.
Photograph: Grossman, Mildred. "[Little Rock Nine students and Mayor Robert F. Wagner, New York, NY, 1958]," 1958. Gelatin silver print. Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P89-25-129. Available to view online at http://[Little Rock Nine students and Mayor Robert F. Wagner, New York, NY, 1958]
Text, first two sections: Little Rock Nine online exhibit, New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO. Available online at https://hotelworkers.org/about/history/the-little-rock-nine
Photograph: "Ms. Cling-Free," Judy Dater (1982/83). Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P88-05-003. Available online at https://library-artstor-org.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/#/asset/ARTSTOR_103_41822001228236 (may need to log-in using UMBC username).
Text, page 5 beginning with, "A recurring theme..." : Stein, Donna. "The Art of Judy Dater and Her Photographic "Memoir"." Woman's Art Journal 35, no. 1 (2014): 3-13. Accessed April 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24395358.
Photograph: Frank, Robert (American, born Switzerland, 1924-). 1955. Trolley, New Orleans from the series The Americans. Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P78-25-018. Available online at https://library-artstor-org.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/asset/AMHOUSTONIG_10313876303.
Text, page 30 to end: Cotkin, George. "The Photographer in the Beat-hipster Idiom: Robert Frank's the Americans." American Studies 26, no. 1 (1985): 19-33. Accessed March 26, 2020. Available online at www.jstor.org/stable/40641927.
Photograph: Hine, Lewis. "Johnnie Yellow, a young Polish berry picker..." 1909. Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P834. Available online at http://cdm16629.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/hinecoll/id/1965
Text: "Child Labor in the American South: Maryland Berry Pickers," by Eileen Jeanneret for UMBC HIST 402, Fall 2007. Available online at https://userpages.umbc.edu/~arubin/HIST402_SP2007/3079C039084AC9332C256E463516ED43.html
Photograph: 127th Regiment United States Colored Troops flag, circa 1860s. Carte-de-visit. Available to view in UMBC Special Collections, call number P76-14-005, Rooks Collections. Available online at http://cdm16629.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/rookscoll/id/10
Text: "Atlanta History Center acquires rare Civil War African American troop flag," June 14, 2019 https://www.reporternewspapers.net/2019/06/14/atlanta-history-center-acquires-rare-civil-war-african-american-troop-flag/
Photograph: Catherine Opie, American, born 1961. 1998, printed 2000. Tammy Rae & Kaia, Durham, North Carolina. photographs. Place: Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation. Available online at https://library-artstor-org.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/asset/ASLAMIG_10312597312.
Text, read "The Family" section: Guralnik, Orna. 2013. “Being and Having an Identity: Catherine Opie.” Studies in Gender & Sexuality 14 (3): 239–44. Available online at http://proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=sih&AN=90147587&site=eds-live&scope=site
Photograph: Cindy Sherman (American, born 1954). 1990. Untitled #228. Place: The Museum of Modern Art, Acquired through the generosity of Eileen and Peter Norton. Available online at https://library-artstor-org.proxy-bc.researchport.umd.edu/asset/AWSS35953_35953_30226978.
Text: Cindy Sherman, Untitled #228 from the History Portraits series, by Christine Zappella. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/global-contemporary/a/sherman-untitled