Image Credits: Paula Chamlee, From the series High Plains Farm, Adrian, Texas, 1995, 1995, Gelatin silver chloride contact print, H. 6 3/4 x W. 4 3/4 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Museum purchase funded by Anne and Joseph Gardocki; Michael A. Smith, (1942-2018), Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1988, gelatin silver chloride print on paper, H. 7.5 x W. 19.5 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Museum purchase funded by Anne and Joseph Gardocki.

About This Resource

Note for Teachers: Use this video focused on the work of artists Paula Chamlee and Michael Smith, featured in the exhibition, Through the Lens: Modern Photography in the Delaware Valley, to inspire your students on the subjects of still life and landscape photography. Use the looking questions and activity sheets with your students to help guide close looking and written responses with each of the artworks.

Grade Level (s): 4-5; 6-8

Subject Area (s): Visual Arts, Language Arts, Science, Environment and Ecology



Looking Questions:

Use the looking questions below to guide a closer examination of the work of Paula Chamlee and Michael A. Smith. After you have spent time looking at each of the works, compare the two of them together. What similarities and differences can you discover?

  • What do you see? Describe all of the details.
  • Where do your eyes go to first? What elements draw you to this area?
  • Describe the shapes, lines and forms you see in the work.
  • Describe the various textures and patterns that you see in the work.
  • Is there movement in this work? Why or why not?
  • How would you describe the artist’s use of perspective or depth in the work? Explain.
  • Discuss the use of light and contrast in the photograph.
  • How has the artist abstracted the composition? Explain your answer.
  • How do you feel when you look at this work? Why?
  • Does the photography remind you of anything? Explain.
  • If you could tell a story about this photograph, what would it be?
  • If you could ask the photographer a question about their work, what would it be? Why?

About the Artworks:

From the series High Plains Farm, Adrian, Texas, 1995, 1995, by Paula Chamlee

This arrangement of tools, neatly hung or propped against a garage wall, shows signs of heavy use and wear, marking the passage of time and familiarity of place for the artist. Paula Chamlee is a master of large-format photography and silver chloride prints, which provide a great depth of field and high amount of information and tonal range. In 1995, she returned to her family’s farm in Adrian, Texas, first established by her grandparents in 1911, to document the property, its objects, and inhabitants.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1988 by Michael A. Smith

The foreground of this photograph features white tree trunks in this Bucks County landscape. They break up the horizontal composition into distinct parts, creating an almost musical rhythm. When Smith began experimenting with an 8×20-inch camera in the late 1970s, he was inspired by bird sonograms (also known as spectrograms), in which black marks running from left to right indicate the tonal progression and volume of the notes in bird song.


Visual Arts/Language Arts

  • Explore patterns in each of the photographs using this activity sheet.
  • Set up a still life of your own inspired by the work of Paula Chamlee. What will you include? Capture this still life with your camera and write a short paragraph describing what you have included in the composition and the reasons for you choices. For further exploration of the subject of still life in the Museum’s collection, read this post on the artist, M. Elizabeth Price.
  • Using your camera, go outside to capture the landscape just as Michael A. Smith did in his work. What aspects of the landscape will you include in your composition? Consider what areas of interest capture your attention, what your focal point will be, and how you will crop your image. Create your image both in black and white and also in color. Compare your results.
  • Examine the composition of a photograph closer using this activity sheet at home or in the Museum’s galleries.

Science/Environment and Ecology

  • Bird Sonograms: Artist Michael A. Smith was inspired by bird sonograms in his work. These visual representations of bird songs can also be considered similar to a musical score. They are simple graphs that display the frequency, or pitch, of a sound, its loudness, and how these change over the course of the sound. Research this topic via sites like Audubon or Cornell University’s The Bird Academy and The Cornell Lab for Ornithology Macaulay Library. What visual connections can you find with these sonograms and Michael Smith’s composition? In your research, find a bird from your region and its corresponding sonogram. Create a visual and audio presentation of your findings, including a drawing of the bird you have researched. For further investigation: research the connections between bird sonograms and traditional music.
  • The Science of Photography. Artists Paula Chamlee and Michael A. Smith created gelatin silver chloride prints. Explore the usage of light sensitive silver halides in the photography process. What is the history behind this process? What other famous photographers used it? What other types of photographic processes have been done throughout history? Write a report of your findings. For a hands-on investigation for older students, if a darkroom is available, conduct your own experiment as a class or on your own with these chemicals. Be sure to read more about Chamlee and Smith’s efforts to produce their own photographic paper that they continue to sell today. For more information, visit their website.

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