Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964 can be used to learn about artistic movements and individual artists through research projects and comparative exercises. Through comparison, students may also learn to perceive change and continuity through time and understand the techniques by which a photographer conveys meaning in portraits. Finally, with this collection, students can gain a multi-faceted understanding of the African-American migration of the 1920s and explore the issue of America's cultural contribution.
Because the collection's photographs were taken over a period of approximately thirty years, students can use them to trace changes and continuity through time. Have them consider what changes they might expect to observe in Van Vechten's portraits and articulate this in a written hypotheses. Then, they can search the collection, organizing images by date, and determine whether this evidence corroborates or invalidates their hypotheses. Some of the changes they may want to consider include changes in fashion, in costumes and set design, in the photographs' backgrounds, and the people's poses. Ask them to answer the following questions:
- Did the evidence prove or disprove your hypothesis?
- Were you surprised by what you found? Why or why not?
- What changes are observable in these portraits? What do you think caused these changes?
- If the pictures did not show changes that you expected to find, how might you account for their absence? Would you attribute this to your own assumptions or to the collection?