Riis's Urban Photography

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Corroboration, Sourcing



Use the photograph, source information, and background information to answer the questions below.

Background Information: Jacob Riis took photographs to raise public concern about the living conditions of the poor in American cities.  Riis was one of the first Americans to experiment with flash photography, which allowed him to capture images of dimly lit places. But like all nineteenth-century photographers, Riis’s subjects had to remain completely still while the picture was taken.


Title: Mullen’s Alley, Cherry Alley
Date of photograph: c. 1888
Photographer: Jacob A. Riis
Location: New York City

Question 1: Why might the background information above lead you to question the photograph’s reliability?

Question 2: What is one feature of the photo that might lead you to question its reliability? Explain your reasoning.

Question 3: What is one thing you would want to know about Jacob A. Riis or how he took this photo to better determine its reliability?

About the Assessment

Like the Lange assessment, this question asks students to engage in sourcing, contextualization, and corroboration.  Students are asked to consider how the contextual information affects the reliability of Riis's photograph.  They then must consider how the content of the photograph could affect its reliability.   Finally, students must think of something else they would like to know about the photographer or the circumstances of the photograph to further evaluate the reliability of this photograph.