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John Pfahl: Having Fun with Landscape Photography

For Grades K–6

Table of Contents

Featured Works
Objectives
Materials
Activities
Afterwards: Altered Photographs
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum


Featured Works

 
John Pfahl
(American, born 1939)
Moonrise over Pie Pan, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, 1977
Chromogenic color print, edition 11/77
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Charles W. Goodyear Fund, 1979 
(pictured above right and at bottom of page)

John Pfahl
(American, born 1939)
Great Salt Lake Angles, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1977
Chromogenic color print, edition 12/77
8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Charles W. Goodyear Fund, 1977 
(pictured at right and at bottom of page)

 


Objectives

  • Learn about and experiment with changing horizon lines in traditional landscapes and portraits
  • Learn about shadows and reflected light
  • Learn how John Pfahl placed objects in the landscape before he took his photographs, thought carefully about the lighting of these photographs, and called these photographs Altered Landscapes
  • Create alterations of landscape photographs
  • Write a narrative from a character’s point of view explaining the altered photographs the students created


Materials

  • John Pfahl: Having Fun with Landscape Photography Presentation (PDF)
  • Sticks
  • A bowl or pot with white paper over it
  • Pie pans or tinfoil
  • A bright light that can be aimed at will (a very big flashlight might work)
  • Digital, mechanical, or disposable camera(s)
  • Magazine landscape photographs (optional)
  • Drawing and painting materials such as oil pastels, watercolors, colored pencils, and Sharpies or other permanent markers (optional)


Activity: Learning about Shadows and Light

Set up a large bowl or pot under a large piece of white paper in the center of a table or on the floor. Select a stick or piece of wood and stick it through the paper and into the bowl. Shut off the lights and experiment with making the stick’s shadow appear in different locations by moving the flashlight (or other movable light) or the stick. Have students move around and see how the shadows change.

Experiment in the same way with pie pans or pieces of tinfoil propped up on white paper so they will reflect light in different directions.

Have fun with this experiment. There is no way to make the results perfect, or just like John Pfahl’s, but you can try!


Activity: Altered Landscapes by John Pfahl

Show students the John Pfahl: Having Fun with Landscape Photography Presentation, with examples from John Pfahl’s Altered Landscapes series.


Activity: Make Your Own Altered Photograph

There are many possibilities:

  • Have your students take photographs—with a digital or disposable camera—of the experiments in the “Learning about Shadows and Light” activity. Is there a way you can take the same photograph and change only the horizon line? Print the photographs and alter the prints with drawing or painting materials, if you like.
  • Go outside on a sunny day and look for shadows and reflections. Urge students to look for interesting shapes and their shadows and reflections. Remind them to think carefully about making the photographs interesting. Remember the exact time you are outside so you can compare shadows and reflections if you return on another sunny day.
  • Choose a landscape or cityscape to photograph and then brainstorm ways to change the position of the horizon line in the photos. See if students can find a way to take photographs of one location or object with a low horizon line, a middle horizon line, and a high horizon line. 
  • Figure out how students can add a stick, some tinfoil, or some other object of their choosing to the photos, creating new shadows, reflections, or ideas about the landscape. Remind them to always leave the landscape as they found it. 
  • Ask students to take three portraits of another student and change the position of the horizon line in each one.
  • Alternative to photography: Find landscape photographs from magazines and have students choose a strategy for altering them by drawing or painting on them, and titling them to reflect what they added.


Afterwards: Altered Photographs

Print the photographs and talk about them as a group. Good questions to ask:

  • How does changing the horizon line change the photograph? 
  • Can you think of a humorous title for the altered photograph?
  • What steps did the photographer take to get the photographic results you see? What was his/her thought process?
  • If photographs were taken at different times, how did conditions change?

Write a creative fictional story that includes:

  • A character of the photographer’s choice who narrates the story
  • Details about the landscape
  • An explanation from the character’s point of view of why the object is there

Alternative to photography: Write the creative fictional story described above about one of John Pfahl’s Altered Landscapes photographs.


New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • New York State Learning Standards for Math, Science, and Technology 4 (in learning about shadows and light), 5 (in learning about the use of a camera and the printing and altering of photographs, whether digital or mechanical)
  • College Career and Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3, 4, 5 
  • College Career and Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 6
  • College Career and Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 4
  • College Career and Readiness Anchor Standard for Writing 1, 2, 3, 4 (in writing creative narratives), (plus 5 and 6 if drafts and presentations are developed from the writing)

Gallery