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“It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves� T.S. Eliot

Objects are a part of who we are. Character, beliefs, values, and personality is expressed through the objects we own and cherish. This unit encourages the exploration of identity through the investigation of personal belongings.


Table of Contents Unit Overview


Artist Reference Sheet


Artist Info Sheet




Project Sheet


Project Rubric


Project Evaluation


Project Reflection


Additional Resources


Project Example



I AM WHAT I OWN: MATERIAL CULTURE & IDENTITY Enduring Idea: Identity Grade Level/ Course: High School Grades 9-12 / Photography Rationale: Historically to present day, objects of material culture have been used as a means of expressing personal, social, and cultural identities. Students need to recognize how the objects they own, use, buy, value, etc. reflect their identity. Essential Questions: How and why do we assign personal value and meaning to objects? How do our possessions reflect our identity? How are contemporary artists using objects of material culture to explore identity? Objectives:  Investigate how objects relate to identity.  Examine the works of contemporary artists working with objects as identity.  Explore identity through personal possessions. AKS Standards: Photo Design A - Creation and Performance o Employ creative solutions in producing photographs using variety of approaches to composition and subject manner o Apply knowledge of elements of art and principles of design in creating photographic artworks o Display work habits and craftsmanship appropriate to the photographic process and specialized equipment being used o Make independent decisions and evaluate judgments during creative process and in resolution of specific photo design problems o Use photographic technology to organize and convey thematic content, ideas, feelings, or moods B - Perception and Analysis o Use specialized photographic media vocabulary to critically analyze and evaluate artworks and relate knowledge of frequently used processes and equipment o Recognize and identify various visual forms created using photographic media o Explore relationships between visual arts and other disciplines o Discuss aesthetic issues related to photo design o Select, present, and display photographic images in an aesthetically appealing manner C - Cultural and Historical Context o Explore contemporary and historical developments related to photographic design o Describe and analyze distinguishing characteristics of photographs of various artists and styles o Describe and analyze career opportunities related to photography 4

Tools/Materials/Resources: Objects, Identity, & Art Artist Reference Sheet Artist Worksheet Project Sheet & Rubric Project Plan & Sketch Project Reflection / Self Evaluation Handout Vocabulary Lesson 1: Bell Ringer: What is your most prized possession? - Prompt students to discuss their responses to Bell Ringer. - Class discussion – Allow students to share their answers to the bell ringer. Discuss how objects are used as a means to express identity? - Questions: If objects are pictured together, can they provide an accurate portrait of a person? What character traits could the objects represent? What would be left out? What identity traits cannot be represented by objects? - Allow students to view the “Iconic Painters” posters from ReRamble. See if they can guess the artists by the images represented. Then have students work in small groups to choose one famous individual and a list of objects that could be representative of their identity. (ex. Abe Lincoln – pipe, hat, pocket watch). Discuss if the objects are representative of the individual‟s character or of the individual‟s role in society? What is the difference? Ticket Out/Home Work: In case of a fire, what 10 “things” would you take from your belongings? Lesson 2: Bell Ringer: Referring to the list you created, what is the significance/importance/value in these objects? - Day 1: Randomly assign each student one work from the Artist Reference Sheet. Students should research the artist and specific artwork completing the Artist Information Sheet. - Next, group students together by artist to compare/contrast their interpretations of the objects within the work. - Day 2: Using information collected on the previous day, continue working within the group, to create a poster about the artist and work similar to the ReRamble posters. The posters will be displayed in the classroom with a chance for students to “guess” the artist. - Day 3: Lead class discussion of how objects can be used as a means to identify someone‟s character, including how the objects are assigned those traits. (ex. Faith – a crucifix, rosary, Star of David, Bindi) When do the same objects have different meanings/associations? How can objects misrepresent character traits? How can objects be used to change or falsify identity? Ticket Out/ Home Work: List 10 objects you own that you would use to represent your identity. How is this list similar and different from the 10 things you saved from the fire? Arrange the 10 objects you chose to represent your identity and photograph each object individually, then arrange objects in 3 different compositions and photograph the still life arrangements. 5

Lesson 3: Bell Ringer: How can art reflect someoneâ€&#x;s identity? - Explore the work of Audrey Flack and Georg Flegel. How are the objects in the paintings used as symbols of identity? Whose identity is being portrayed? - Day 1: Introduction to Object Self Portrait Assignment (Project Sheet & Rubric). - Allow time for students to reflect, journal on their object choices. - 3-6 days of working, stopping for in progress critique. - Upon completion, hold class critique and students complete Self Evaluation & Reflection. Assessment: Formative assessments will take place throughout the unit with observations, collection, and completion of assigned tasks. Summative assessments will take place after the completion of the project and reflection using the rubric provided to students.



Richard Dupont, “Cyclops Head” 2011

Foster Huntington, The Burning House Project

Simon Evans “Everything I Have” 2008


Kate Fichard, Totem de Vie Series, 2012

Mac Premo “The Dumpster Project”,2012

Gabriele Galimberti, “Toy Stories” 2011-2013

Georg Flegel, “Still Life with Cherries”, 1635 8

Dan Vo, “IMUUR2” 2012

Camillia Catrambone, “Family Portraits”, 2013

Helga Steppan, “See Through”, 2004

Rammellzee,“Duchess”, 1999


I AM WHAT I OWN: ARTIST INFO SHEET Name: _________________________________Date:______________Class: ___________ Complete the following information about the artist. Sketch the work on the back of the page.

Artist Name: ______________________________________________________________ Date of Birth/Death: ______________________Country of Origin: ___________________ Title of Work: _____________________________________________________________ Location: _______________________________ Size: ____________________________ Medium: ________________________________________________________________ Concept/Idea/Inspiration: ____________________________________________________ Description: ______________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ What “identity� do you think the artist was trying to portray? ________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ What objects did the artist use? What was the meaning/character trait portrayed by these objects?____________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ Why do you think the artist created this work? What is your interpretation?_____________ ________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________ 10


"My story as an artist is who I am. It is where the art comes form. It come from the time, the place the identity of the person doing it." -Faith Ringgold

Identity – the distinguishing character or personality of an individual Montage – a composite picture made by combining several separate pictures Profile – a representation of something in outline; especially:a human head or face represented or seen

in a side view Self-portrait – a portrait of oneself done by oneself Silhouette – a likeness cut from dark material and mounted on a light ground or one sketched in outline and solidly colored in

“When I paint a still life, I want it to be anything but still. I want it to shimmer with light. I want it to rustle with movement.“ -Kurt Anderson

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” -Frida Kahlo

Still life – a picture consisting predominantly of inanimate objects Symbolism – the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations


I AM WHAT I OWN: PROJECT INFORMATION SHEET Goal: Create a self-portraitmontage using objects as symbols to represent their individual identity. Objectives:  Experiment with how objects can be used tosymbolize aspects of identity.  Explore Photoshop software for layering and editing digital images. Materials/ Supplies:  Digital photographs  Project Rubric & Evaluation  Project Reflection  Photoshop Software Process:  Step 1: Review works by artists creating identity images with objects. Create 3 compositional sketches for the layout of your self-portrait. How will you use the objects to portray your identity? Discuss with instructor for approval.  Step 2: Upload object images, creating a new layer for each object. Edit and arrange images using your composition sketch to create a unified montage representing your identity.  Step 4:In-progress critique. Adjust according to peer & instructor suggestions.  Step 5: Complete project, reflection and/ or evaluation.  Step 6: Display and class critique.



(A) 99-90 %

(B) 89-80%

(C) 79-70%

(F) 69 – 0%

Completely original composition. Objects shown are unique to individual.

Somewhat original design idea. Objects shown are unique to individual.

Very little originality in design idea. Objects shown are generic and not unique to the individual.

Image and objects are not unique to individual or composed in a creative way.

Montage composed in a unified, wellplanned design. Design choices exhibit strong knowledge and use ofElements & Principles of Art.

Montage is composed in a relatively unified design. Design choices exhibit some knowledge and use of the Elements & Principles of Art.

Montage exhibits very little unity in composition and there is little evidence of knowledge or use of the Elements & Principles of Art.

Montage is unorganized and displays little to no signs of knowledge or use of the Elements & Principles of Art.


Objects and composition clearly represent the individualâ€&#x;s identity.

Most objects are clear and relatable to personal identity.

The piece shows little representation of identity. Objects are recognizable.

The finished piece shows little representation of identity.


Montage is complete, clean, and skill is evident in editing. Composition and use of focus clearly communicate ideas.

Montage is complete and shows some effort in editing.Composition and use of focus exhibit some skill in communicating idea.

Montage is partially complete and shows little effort in editing.Composition and use of focus confuses idea.

Montage is incomplete and shows no effort in editing. Composition and use of focus detract from idea.




I AM WHAT I OWN: PROJECT EVALUATION SHEET Name: _____________________________________Date: ___________Class: _________ 1. How did you choose the objects to represent your identity? What traits do the objects represent? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. What did you learn about yourself through the exploration of the objects you “value”? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. Has this project changed the way you think about the significance of things? Why or why not?________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. What would have made your project more successful? How could you improve your project? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________


I AM WHAT I OWN: PROJECT REFLECTION Name: __________________________________________Date: ________Class: _______ In the space provided, reflect on the “I Am What I Own� project by considering the following questions: o Describe the process of choosing objects to represent you and the characteristics or qualities they represent. o Discuss the role of objects as symbols of your identity. What do the objects you own, objects you value, say about who you are as a person? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 15


Books Turkle, S. (Ed.). (2007). Evocative objects: Things we think with. Cambridge: MIT Press. Sofaer, J. (Ed.). (2007). Material identities. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Articles Belk, R. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), p. 139-168. Craig, A. (2011). When a book is not a book: Objects as „players‟ in identity and community formation. Journal of Material Culture, 16(47). Guerra, G. (2006). Identity, aestehtics, objects. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 40(4), p. 6576. Wallendorf, M. & Arnould, J. (1988). My favorite things: A cross-cultural inquiry into object attachment, possessiveness, and social linkage. Journal of Consumer Research , 14(3), p. 531-547.

Videos Art 21, PBS Series, Season 1, “Identity”

Websites Smithsonian Education “Myths in words and pictures” Objects & Identity, Pinterest Board SweeneyME


Project Example 1: This example shows one solution to the design project. The objects are layered within the image. The photo of the face is a transparent overlay.

Project Example 2: This example excludes the over lay of the face.

*The project should be open for student’s interpretation.* 17

I Am What I Own: Material Culture & Identity  

A high school photography unit exploring the connection between objects of material culture and the enduring idea of identity.

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