Shared Human Experiences: The Photography of Edmund Eckstein

Shared Human Experiences: The Photography of Edmund Eckstein

Edmund Eckstein (b. 1943)

Image credit: Edmund Eckstein (b. 1943), Emergency Department, Evan Preparing for Sutures from Doylestown Hospital series, 1997, Gelatin silver print, James A. Michener Art Museum Collection.

About This Resource:

Note for Teachers:  The work of Edmund Eckstein in the current exhibition, Through the Lens: Modern Photography in the Delaware Valley, features photographs that Eckstein created during the month he spent at Doylestown Hospital as an artist-in-residence. Use the work of Eckstein with your students to activate strategies and core competencies included in the Social and Emotional Learning Framework. Inspire learners to consider how their own work could include their own reflections on shared human experiences seen in Eckstein’s work such as courage, fear, hope, resilience, self-expression, and concern for others.

Grade Level (s): Grades 4-5; 6-8

Subject Area (s): Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Language Arts, Technology


About The Artist:

“Someone gave me a little Brownie camera when I was 12 years old and that was it. I was hooked right away. I never had a Plan B. It is really a calling for me.” – Ed Eckstein

Ed Eckstein, a Germantown High School graduate, started his career in the 1960s, documenting the social upheavals of the era. He continues to photograph worldwide for clients in the editorial, corporate, and advertising sectors. He calls his brand of imagery “non-fiction photography,” images unmanipulated and distilled from visual encounters with humanity and place. He has photographed social protests relating to multiple sides of issues including civil rights, KKK rallies, pro-war, and anti-war. As noted in the Artblog, “…He has a great eye for the small moment within the larger storm of history…he captures individuals, using empathy instead of judgment, and always when the face is at rest. These are ordinary folks. They could be your neighbors—or you—and you want to know more…”

Eckstein lived in New York City for many years where he was part of the Black Star Agency, a group of documentary photographers for hire. When he moved back to Philadelphia is ____ he did contract work for the New York Times. In the late 1990s, Eckstein spent a month as an artist-in-residence at Doylestown Hospital, documenting life at the hospital for a Michener Art Museum exhibition, Healing Images, Healing Arts: 75 Years of Care at the Doylestown Hospital. Eckstein took over 4000 images during his time documenting the hospital, and the photos from the Michener exhibition were later published in the book, Bricks & Mortals.

Looking Questions:

  • What do you see in this image? Describe all its details.
  • Where does your eye go to first when you look at this work? Why?
  • Who is this young boy? What do you think he is doing?
  • What emotion is he experiencing? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What emotions might the other people in the photograph be experiencing? Explain your answer.
  • If you could tell a story about this boy, what would it be? Who are the people around him?
  • How does this photograph make you feel? Why?

About The Artwork:

Over the course of a month in 1997, Ed Eckstein was granted access to Doylestown Hospital to produce a photographic series commissioned by the Michener Art Museum. Eckstein’s striking black and white photographs capture the attentive, concerted acts of labor performed daily by healthcare workers, as well as instances of adversity and triumph experienced by patients, visitors, and staff. As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 global pandemic, Eckstein’s intimate series of photographs offers a powerful testimony to the dedication and persistence of healthcare workers in our community and throughout the world.


Language Arts
  • Exploring Emotions: This photograph is an image of a young child in the Emergency Room of Doylestown Hospital. He is surrounded by doctors, nurses, and his family. We can learn a lot about what he might be experiencing or feeling by looking at his facial expression or body language. The people surrounding him also have feelings about the situation that is taking place. What emotions can you identify in this work of art? Think about a time in your life where you have experienced these emotions or feelings. Discuss them with a friend or family member and then write about them in your journal. Or, use digital tools like or word clouds in as a class to build vocabulary and language skills in responding to this question. SEL Competency: Self-Awareness
  • Feeling Fearful: This young boy in this photograph is likely experiencing an emotions that we all have experienced at one point: fear. He is about to receive stitches in the Emergency Room, which can be a scary experience. Discuss this emotion with your friend, family member or classmate. What can we do to help others when we know they are fearful or scared? What can we do for ourselves when we feel this way? Write down some ideas in a journal. SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Social Awareness
  • Collaborative Empathy Poem: Individually, imagine what the boy in the photograph might say. Next, on a strip of paper or on a small card, write a sentence in the voice of the young boy. (Each member of the class completes this activity individually at the same time.) Once completed, have each student read their sentence aloud to the rest of the group. Consider as a group how the sentences might be ordered to have the most impact as a collaborative poem. Decide as a class to move the strips/cards around until everyone is satisfied with their order. Tape them down on a piece of paper and read them aloud once finalized. To accomplish this in a digital format, use Google Jamboard as an option. SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills
Visual Arts/Performing Arts:
  • Choose one of the emotions in the work of art that you discussed from the activities above. Create a work of art that conveys this emotion using a medium of your choice. SEL Competency: Self-Awareness
  • Create a series of photographs that represent different emotions. What objects or elements will you use to convey these emotions? Will they be in color or black and white? Once you complete your series, write a short paragraph describing them and your thoughts behind your photographic process. Optional: use Adobe Photoshop or a photo editing software in your work. SEL Competency: Self-Awareness
  • As a class, write a short play or scene about an experience when you felt strong emotions. Be sure to include a way for characters to think about their feelings and practice ways to feel better if they are having a negative emotion.  Perform your play for an audience. SEL Competencies: Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills

Related Resources:

  • Download the Finding a Friend Gallery Activity Sheet.
  • Learn more about Ed Eckstein through his website.
  • Download the Gallery Activity Sheet: Art for Social Change (.pdf)
  • Download the Gallery Activity Sheet: Say What? Gallery Activity (.pdf)
  • Previous post: Gallery Activities for Through the Lens: Modern Photography in the Delaware Valley
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