Visualizing Cultures

Black Ships & Samurai, Lesson 01

Introduction to Reading the Visual Images
in Black Ships & Samurai

Handout 01-A | Printer-friendly PDF file

1. What you see. For this analysis, you will focus on concrete aspects of the picture (objects and action) that the artist included.

Look at the image for about one minute and, as you look, jot down everything that you notice in the picture in each of the following categories.
• People
• Natural physical setting/physical surroundings
• Constructed physical setting (buildings, built objects, etc.)
• Action and human interaction

Next, look at the image in sections. If this is a long image from left to right, divide the image into three “panels” and consider each panel. Otherwise, divide the image into four quadrants and consider it carefully that way. Write down 5-10 additional things that you see in the picture that you did not notice on your first look.
2. What you sense. For this analysis, you will focus on things that the artist conveyed through stylistic elements—placement, coloring and shading, postures, expressions, symbols, artistic style. Look at the visual record again and jot down everything you notice in the picture in each of the following categories.
• Placement of people and activity on the page
• Use of color and shading
• Human postures and expressions
• Use of symbols (an object that you think may stand for an idea)
From the lists you have generated in steps 1 and 2, identify 10 things from the visual image that you think would be most important in terms of using this image to understand the history of the Perry expedition and its reception in Japan.

Use copy-and-paste features or circle-and-arrow features on your computer to highlight these 10 features of the image. Write an explanation of what you think each one reveals as historical information and why you think it is important.

3. The artist’s voice. Consider this visual image as you would a written record of an event, with the picture telling a story, or perception of an event.

How does the artist express his “voice” or views on the event?

What do you think the artist’s attitude is about the Japanese, the Americans, and the situation represented in this image?

On what evidence within the image do you base your response?

What is the narrative that you think the artist would have written if he had been better with words than pictures? In other words, rewrite the visual story as a written story. Write one paragraph that conveys the subject and story of the illustration. Use first person to convey the artist’s viewpoint or voice.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology © 2008 Visualizing Cultures