User Menu

MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Illumination: Understanding Black and White Photography

Black and white photography allows artists to use shapes, tones and textures as points of interest for aesthetic and narrative purposes. Contrasts of shadow and highlights become a features in photographic images which can transform the meaning of the subjects. The goal of this lesson is to understand the techniques that early photographers who used the medium to illuminate subtle details of everyday life.

The lesson features the work of four photographers known for their early innovative work in the black and white format: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Consuelo Kanaga. The viewer is invited to pay specific attention to how these artists use light and contrast. This lesson designed primarily for high school students who have been introduced to film photography, and is meant to be viewed by students as the instructor presents the lesson on screen or as a projection.

Learning goals:
Each of these photographs is a primary source that when studied in the context of 20th century photography, will provide a fuller understanding of the individual concepts as well as the featured artists' place in art history. Students will learn how to discuss, interpret, and critique artworks while making connections between art, history and their own identity.

It is important to encourage the students to engage in discussion questions and, when possible, to participate in the suggested follow up activities.

Most of works featured are part of the Museum of Fine Arts collection, and some are borrowed from other institutions. If a museum visit can be included with this unit study, a map marking the locations of images featured in this set can be obtained from the education department of the museum, making locating them in the live collection easier for further study.  

Created By

Meghan Ward


The Arts

Grade Level

General Interest, 9-12