17 September 2013

Photo Interpretation Addendum

My inability to determine much by studying the photograph in last Friday’s blog post, The House in the Photograph, belies my experience at photo interpretation. One of the courses I taught for years was essentially an image analysis course focused on environmental applications. I was asked to develop the course to complement other courses in our Remote Sensing curriculum.

On the first day of class, when students were still shopping for electives, I would tell them everything about the course--how great it was, the schedule of topics, my expectations, grading etc, and I’d show at least these four 35 mm slides to give them a taste.

Although I let the direction and depth of image analysis vary each year with the students’ freewheeling identifications and interpretations, with or without voting, you might like to see how you would have fared. (Information about each photo is at the bottom.) Would you have wanted to come back for more?


Tell me everything about the scene and
 support your analysis with what you see.
You struggled with the first photo,
but this one will make you feel cuddly.
Tell me everything about the scene.
Uh-oh. This one is tough. Again, tell
me everything about the scene.
This one should be easy. Fill in all
the (who, what, where, when) blanks.



Photo 1: A bus stop, Philippines, 1971. Identifying the buses, signs, activities, dress and wet streets narrow the location. When enterprising students moved closer to the screen, they could read the orange display sign on the bus front, “Divisoria,” adding Spanish (or Tagalog) to the mix and leading to comments about image resolution.

Photo 2: A panda, Beijing Zoo, 1982. Identifying the panda and structure narrows the location to a zoo. Studying the people and dress, and knowing which zoos have pandas, might take you further.

Photo 3: A formally dressed, elderly woman, holding a basketball, Philippines, 1972. The woman’s dress appears Spanish; the banana leaf on the right suggests it’s subtropical or tropical. Having seen the bus stop photo, students usually guessed the Philippines. But the basketball didn’t fit and wasn’t readily identified. Once identified, it did lead to fun interpretations.

Photo 4: Man, woman and dog in temperate zone, winter setting, 1970. Everything in the photo was familiar to most of the students, leading to speedy answers; e.g., snow and vegetation point to temperate zone, car and fashions (woman’s bell-bottom pants) suggest approximate date. But students always guessed married couple, which wasn’t the case; they were only friends. Interpretations are indeed interpretations; identifications can take you only so far.

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