Video-based ESL/EFL lesson plan on image rights, voyeurism and street photography featuring Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up
Following on from my post about Rear Window, a film I often like to use in class following Hitchcock’s masterpiece is Antonioni’s 1966 classic Blow-Up. While the main character’s casual mysogyny is jarring today, the film has not lost its intriguing power and ambiguity. I won’t reiterate the debate around what actually happens in the film here, suffice to say there are good grounds to doubt the veracity of what we see, particularly in relation to film’s central murder mystery. The film also includes one of my all-time favourite scenes, in which the hero photographer works – with increasing intensity – in his studio as he develops the photos that convince him he has unwittingly witnessed a crime, an extract of which features in my lesson plan below.
As concerns using the film in a language class, the movie’s potential for me lies in its dialogue-free sequences which offer opportunities for description and discussion. Moreover, the ambiguity of such scenes can be exploited for student speculation and hypothesis, as well as for laying the groundwork for further debates about privacy, image rights and – once again – the fine line between curiosity and voyeurism. The two famous scenes I have chosen are also effective as they act as disparate parts of a narrative jigsaw that students must make sense of and complete.
Level: A2 +
In order to get the students anticipating and speaking, show them the Blow-Up poster. Ask them to discuss in small groups what they think the film is about and in what genre it could be. An alternative would be to compare and contrast the iconic poster with that of Rear Window, particularly if you have already been working on the Hitchcock classic. There are a many stunning versions of each, but the ones I have chosen here are as good as any.
Show students the clip below, asking them to focus on the following elements. If you think the clip is too long/dense for the level of the group, you could split the class into groups and given them one of these tasks each.
- Describe the people in the scene (What are they doing and why? What do you think their relationship could be? What can you suppose about their jobs/lifestyle etc.?)
- Describe the environment (landscape, climate, time of day etc.). When and where do you think the film was made and why?
- Describe the atmosphere/mood of the scene, focusing on camerawork, sound etc.
- What do you think happens next?
Give the students time in pairs or groups to share their observations before soliciting suggestions from the whole class, noting down key vocabulary for everyone to see.
Show students the second clip (below), asking them to focus on the following elements:
- Describe what happens in the scene
- What do you think happened in the park?
- What do you think the man wants to do with the photographs?
Have the students share their observations before soliciting suggestions from the whole class, noting down key vocabulary for everyone to see. Replay the clip if necessary to aid comprehension of the “murder” scene as it is presented in fragmented form, and out of sequence, through the hero’s photos.
Creative/productive tasks for students
As a follow-up you could do one or several of the following activities:
- Debate about image rights. In France, for example, le droit à l’image is taken very seriously. The teacher could have students discuss a series of questions around this theme in groups, or have a formal debate around the question: “Is it acceptable to take people’s pictures, without their knowing, in the name of art?”
- Students could present their own photographic murder mystery. They take a series of pictures and present them to the class. The class must guess what is supposed to have happened, before the group finally reveal the true story behind the mystery.
- Students research and present examples of “Street Photography” that they like. They should focus in particular on works which feature people being photographed unwittingly and discuss whether it is justified. There are countless examples of Street Photography, and whole groups dedicated to them on social media.
- Students research and present Arne Svenson’s photographic series, The Neighbors, in which the photographer transforms images of her neighbours, taken through the windows of their appartment block, into subtly suggestive tableaux. Which do they like best and why? Do they think the result justifies the means?
From Arne Svenson’s Neighbors
Possible areas of language focus
- modals for deduction (He must be a reporter, she must have seen him hiding in the park etc.)
- tenses (past, present, future etc.)
- conditionals (If I were him, I’d …)
- sequencing words for explaining a narrative (first, then, next, before, after etc.)