Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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'Everyone Can Understand a Picture': Photographers and the Promotion of Early Yellowstone'

By Lee H. Whittlesey

Download and read the article in PDF format. 


Development of photographic technology and its impact on society

The power of a photographic image


1)    What was a stereoscope?   Why was it popular in the 19th century?   How did the development of camera technology affect the stereoscope industry?

2)    What purposes do photographs serve?

3)    What does the statement "everyone can understand a picture" mean?

4)    Why was the access to Yellowstone Park so limited during the 1870s and early 1880s?

5)    What effect did the early Yellowstone photos have on people's perceptions of the West?

6)    Why were some of the Park's early photographers overlooked by history?

7)    What event changed people's ability to access the Park? What year did it occur?

8)    Who was William Marshall, and how important was he to the photographic history of the Park?

9)    What did the early photographs mean to the development of the Park, then and now?


 -    Using the visual analysis form in the appendix, select any photo (of anything at all) and as a class, perform a visual analysis on it.  This will acquaint students with the visual analysis process.  Then have the students select their own photos and perform visual analysis on them. Have the students present them to the class.

-    Have students bring in a series of photos from a family trip, friends (whatever). There are two different projects to do. 1) Students make an album, complete with photos, illustrations, and captions. 2) Students get the pictures color-photocopied and make stereoscope cards.   You may be able to find an antique or reproduction/facsimile stereoscope, or you can make one yourself.

-    Purchase disposable cameras, or borrow cameras from your school's photography department, and have students photograph natural and geological features in your area or people doing everyday things.  Caption the photos and assemble them.   Make a slide show, album, or poster board to share with the school or local interest groups.