For Teachers

Interpreting Photographic Series

Provincial Archives of Alberta

While a single photograph can tell a story, a photographic series--a set of photographs of the same event, people, or place--can help to fill in the blanks and present a larger picture. When examining a photograph for research, it is useful to think about these four questions:

  1. Who or what is in the photograph?
  2. Where was it taken?
  3. When was it taken?
  4. Why was it taken?

Trying to answer these questions without any background information can be a daunting task, and a series of photographs can often provide more information than a single photograph.

We can examine this process by looking at the following series of photographs:

Young woman sewing Men packing crates Man inspecting garments Men sorting garments Crates full of clothing

So now let's try and answer the questions from the beginning:

  1. Who or what is in the photograph? Answer: Employees of the GWG.
  2. Where was it taken? Answer: At the factory.
  3. When was it taken? Answer: The workers' clothing and hairstyles, and the shipment's destination, suggest at the end of World War II.
  4. Why was it taken? Answer: The fact that the workers are posed suggests that the pictures were taken to publicize the factory's contribution to the war effort.

Archives often provide background information, or metadata, for photographs in their collections. The date the photographs were taken (May 3, 1946), the location of the GWG factory (Edmonton), and the name of the photographer (Alfred Blyth) are all recorded.

It is possible to determine more information from a series than from a single photograph, but it is also important to consult the archive's card catalogue or search through its database. To see more GWG photographs from the Provincial Archives of Alberta collection, see HeRMIS, the Heritage Resources Management Information System

When using archival photographs for research it is important to remember that they often belong to larger collections of documents that can help provide background and details that cannot be found in the photographs themselves. In this case, further research revealed that the images accompanied an article in the local newspaper: "425 Skilled G.W.G. Employees Busy on Government Contract: City Clothing Plant Hums with Activity Supplying Garments for Holland's People," Edmonton Bulletin, May 9, 1946.