Activity 10: Windows and Mirrors
Examining Pictures Through a Human Rights Lens


Using photographs of people from a variety of cultures, this activity raises questions about universality, diversity, and human dignity.

Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Materials: Copies of the UDHR, complete or simplified version
A collection of pictures showing people of many different cultures, ages, and backgrounds. Especially recommended are Amnesty International calendars and UDHR 50th anniversary poster set1.
Setting: All ages
Links: An effective follow-up to Activity 1, Human Beings/Human Rights.


PART A: Considering a Picture

1. Individually, in pairs or small groups, choose a picture from the selection.

Study the picture and discuss some of the following questions.

2. Questions about Universality:

  • Why did you choose this picture? Why do you think the photographer chose this subject?

  • What do you find in the picture that serves as a mirror of your own life, reflecting something familiar that you can easily recognize?

  • What do you find in the picture that serves as a window onto another culture or way of living, something that is strange and unfamiliar to you?

  • What do you think is going on here (e.g., is it a working environment? a religious setting?).

  • How is the person(s) feeling?

  • In what ways do you think the person(s) in the picture lives a very different life from you? Has different values? needs? hopes? expectations of life?

  • In what ways do you think the person(s) in the picture is like you? Shares similar values? hopes? needs? expectations?

  • Is this a complete picture of the way the person lives? What might be missing?

  • Is there any evidence of victimization in this picture? Of privilege? Of discrimination or privilege based on class? gender? ethnicity?

  • What human rights do you think are most important to the person(s) in the picture? Do you think different rights are most important to you?

  • Are human rights really universal? Do you think the person(s) in the picture wants the same human rights as you do? Do you think the person(s) enjoys the same human rights as you? Why or why not?

3. Questions about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • Make a list of all the human rights you can associate with your picture(s). Include both rights being exercised and rights denied or violated.

  • Match the rights you have listed with specific articles of the UDHR. Write the number of the articles on your list. Alternative: Write out the article(s) illustrated by the picture and display it with the picture.

  • Are most of the rights you have identified civil and political rights or social, economic, and cultural rights? See Part V, A Human Rights Glossary. Mark each as "Civil/Political" or "C/P" and "Social/Economic/Cultural" or "S/E/C."

  • Show your picture(s) to the whole group and explain the rights you have identified. Ask for suggestions of other rights participants may observe in the picture(s).

  • After everyone has shown their pictures, look through the UDHR and consider what articles have not been identified in any pictures. Are some articles more difficult to "see" in pictures? In real life?

4. Questions about Human Dignity:

  • Does this picture express human dignity? How? Does anything in the picture seem to detract from the human dignity of the people in it? How?

  • How would this photograph be different if it were made a century ago? A hundred years from now? Do you think that our ideas about human dignity are changing? If yes, what do you think has brought about this change? Can you relate that change to our understanding of human rights?

  • Does the picture encourage an appreciation of human dignity? What does human dignity have to do with human rights?

  • Why do you think the photographer chose this subject? Why do artists so often choose the human condition as the subject of their work?

PART B: Grouping the Pictures

1. Place all the pictures together on the floor or the wall and consider them as a group.

  • What common features do all these pictures share?

  • What do these pictures say about what it is to be human?

  • If all of these pictures were taken in the same society, what conclusions could you draw about the society? Would you say it was a community where people had their human rights?

  • How would these photographs be different if conditions changed: (e.g., a civil war? discovery of oil in the region? achievement of equality for women? strictly enforced child labor laws? or compulsory primary education? A livable minimum wage? a viral epidemic for which no vaccine is available?).

  • Based on this collection of pictures, what statements can you make about human dignity? About human rights?

2. Try to group certain pictures together into categories. These might be based on the content, tone, or human rights involved.

Going Further

1. A Dialogue -- Write a dialogue between the persons in the picture or between a person in the picture and you.

2. A Cartoon – Draw a cartoon depicting a story about the people in this picture.

3. Research – If possible, find out where the picture was taken. Find out about that country or its culture, including its human rights situation2.

4. Create – Write a poem or story or create an artistic expression that captures an idea or feeling raised by this photograph.


1. For Young Children –

  • Why did you choose this picture?

  • What do you see that is like your own life, something familiar that you can easily recognize?

  • What do you see that is unfamiliar and different from your own life? Is there anything in the picture that you don’t recognize or understand?

  • In what part of the world do you think this picture was taken?

  • How do you think this person is like you? In what ways is the person not like you?

  • What do you think the person(s) in this picture is doing?

  • Make up a story about the person(s) in this picture.

  • How do you think the person(s) in this picture feels?

  • What will the person in this picture do tonight? Tomorrow morning? What will he or she do that you do also? What do you think he or she will do differently or not at all?

  • What do you think this person enjoys doing?

  • What do you think this person will be like in a few years?

  • What do you think this person would like to tell you? To ask you? What would you like to tell or ask this person?

  • Draw a picture that illustrates one of the questions above.

  • Try to copy the picture, matching colors and shapes as closely as possible.


Source: Human Rights Educators’ Network, Amnesty International USA; adapted in part from Emily Style, National Seed Project

1Calendars and posters are available from these sources:

    a. Publications Office, Amnesty International USA, 322 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10001. Tel: 212-807-8400.

    b. Human Rights USA Resource Center, 310 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 1000, Minneapolis, MN 55415-1012. Tel: 1-888-HREDUC8.

2The Amnesty Interactive CD-ROM and Amnesty International’s annual reports provide excellent information. They are available from the addresses above.



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