All I want for Christmas…

tis the season to be jolly: 6 Christmas Themed Photographic activities

Geert Van Kesteren (2004) from Why? Mister, Why?

These adaptable Christmas themed activities introduce participants to a range of quick and easy ways of engaging with photographic processes and also producing  Christmas cards and decorations.

Using a semiotic apporoach, older participants could also be encouraged to reflect on the representation and advertising of Christmas and (potentially) different readings of these.

*These activities could also be adapted for Easter, Halloween etc.

Coca Cola (1931)

1: The 12 days of Christmas: adaptable

Session overview:
  • Every day – for 12 days – participants will photograph an object / create a scene which they feel relates to a Christmas heading / captiion / song etc.
  • These should be provided in advance (with dates) and participants should concentrate on one ‘caption / quote’ for each day.
  • These can be mixed up amongst a class group / more than one participant can work on the daily ‘caption’ at one time.
  • Participants should independently research the work of Lee Friedlander – Merry Christmas from Lee Friedlander (2011) at the Janet Borden Gallery, NYC.
  • Upload daily to Instagram / Twitter / social media platform
some Example Christmas captions to work from:
    1. All I Want for Christmas
    2. Tis the Season to be Jolly
    3. Silent Night
    4. We Three Kings of Orient are
    5. Down in Yon Forest
    6. The Friendly Beasts
    7. Good King Wenceslas
    8. The Holly and the Ivy
    9. i Wonder as i Wander
    10. O’ Holy Night
    11. Rockin Robin
    12. O’ Christmas Tree
suggested output:  daily (clASS) Instagram 
Additional activity ideas:
  • Run a Christmas Treasure Hunt: Find and photograph a ‘present’ every day for 12 days. Who is it for?
  • Pinhole Christmas: Make a Pinhole Camera:  Expose the scene for 12 days

Research: The Work of Lee Friedlander

THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
Advertising forms a system of meaning… The viewer sees all advertisements as one, or rather sees their rules as applicable to one another and thus part of an interchangeable system’ (Williamson, 1978, p.13)

2: twas the night before chrstmas: Light-writing

Merry Christmas (in Cornish)
Session overview:
  • Participants will ‘light write’ / trace a portrait / object / scene / message which they feel relates to Christmas
  • Practice Light Writing techniques
  • Identify participants choice of approach / subject / message
  • In small groups participants help each other produce thier image
  • Print and make into Christmas cards (using A4 folded card)
suggested output: christmas cards
Light Written Christmas Tree / Portrait
Additional activity ideas:
  • The Travels of Rudolph: Using Google Maps identify locations and make light writing pictures of the best present he is dropping off at this location. Why?
  • Class / Family Message: With one letter per ‘model’ each traces out the letter of the message (e.g. Merry Christmas will need 14 ‘models’ and a photographer) *this can also be done with 1 ‘model’ and stitched together using Photoshop or as a multiple exposure.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
‘By the word reading we mean not only the capacity to identify and decode a certain number of signs, but also the subjective capacity to put them into a creative relation between themselves and with other signs’ (Hall, 1999, p.514)


3: Rockin’ Robin: Photograms

session overview:
  • Participants will brainstorm and list typical Christmas scenes and objects *use Christmas cards etc for ideas
  • Identify objects that could be ‘transformed’ into the scene though drawing / painting / placing cut outs on the image *Image manipulation software would also work here
  • Print to size and make into small Christmas decorations (using cardboard / wood slices / cup coasters and string)
suggested output: Chrismas decorations
Christmas Tree (Photogram – with awl pierced card for lights / dogded ‘moonlight’)
Additional activity ideas:
  • A Christmas Scene: Using christmas cards, cut out the shapes of different objects and make a ‘new’ photogram / lumen Christmas story
  • Pinhole Christmas: Make a Pinhole camera. Use the resulting images to think of Christmas scenes you could ‘make’ from them by painting / drawing on them.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
‘There is one lesson we can learn from photographs: images exist not to be believed, but to be interrogated’ (Grundberg, 1999, p.273)


4: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (and friends): typologies

session overview:
  • Participants will brainstorm and list small ‘typical’ Christmas objects *use Christmas cards / adverts etc for ideas / a single object could be photographed in different ways
  • Collect the objects
  • Photograph them as neutrally as possible (using a piece black velvet as a backdrop or curved A1 card as an ‘infinity curve’)
  • Print and stick onto card. Make your accordian fold out card (of at least 3 of the objects)
suggested output: christmas accordian card
Additional activity ideas:
  • Christmas Nativity: Find Christmas themed minature models and objects. make a story / nativity and photograph it. What is its story?
  • Christmas Object: Give each participant / group one ‘Christmas’ object. What else could it be used for?
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
‘Messages are socially produced in particular circumstances and made culturally available as shared explanations of how the world works. In other words, they are ‘ideologies’, explanatory systems of belief’ (Goodwin & Whannel, 2005, p.60)


5: O’ Christmas tree, O’ Christmas tree, how faithful are thy branches: Collage

Diane Arbus (1963) Xmas tree in Living Room, Levittown L.I.
session overview:
  • Participants will find / take a straight photograph of a ‘typical’ Christmas scene *this could be a constructed family portrait
  • Shoot the scene in parts / use Photoshop or a photocopier to enlarge different aspects / areas of the scene
  • Collage these photographs together into a grid or joiner *Scale is an important consideration here
  • Re-photograph and print
Diane Arbus (1963) Xmas tree in Living Room, Levittown L.I. (as collage)
suggested output: christmas print
Additional activity ideas:
  • Dual Christmas: Find a photograph / image of a typical Christmas scene / object and take a photograph to make the ‘another half of the scene’ *This could be expanded to consider scale and additional collage in creating the ‘scene’
  • Merry Christmas from Me: Make a collage of a Christmas scene using found photographs / Christmas cards / objects / or draw a scene on the ground. Using yourself (either photograph yourself or use your shadow etc) position yourself ‘into’ the scene.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
‘Advertisments present an abstract world, often a fantastic one, that is situated not in the present, but in an imagined future’ (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009, p.265)

6: The wisemen saw (or did they?): digital / stop motion / moving image


session overview:
  • Participants will examine / analyse a range of Christmas adverts
  • Using a selection of objects, participants will shoot thier own Christmas advert. Who is it for? What is it’s message?
  • Use Photoshop to add text / logo’s *collage could also be used here
  • Print and critique
Presentation Ideas: Christmas adverts
Project Ideas: Christmas Airlines
suggested output: christmas advert (still or stop motion / moving image)
Additional activity ideas:
  • A (Moving) Merry Christmas: Make a stop motion GIF (telling a story through multiple photographs of objects / quick succession photographs of a narrative). Some instructions on making GIF’s in Photoshop can be found here
  • Once Upon a Time (at Christmas); Devise a Christmas story / use christmas carol lyrics and illustrate this narrative in 6 photographs (individually or as a group) to create a narrative. Make a handmade book and add text.
THESE Sessions could be adapted from:
‘The most significant indexical power of the photograph may not lie in the relation between the photograph and it’s subject, but in the relation between the photograph and it’s beholder, or user’. (Olin, 2002, p.114)

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