Polar Bears

This week… take a look at these two photos of polar bears.

polar bear 1
polar bear 2

Outline: Students decide whether an image is a real photographic representation, a ‘manipulated’ one or simply a real photo of a fake object.

Focus: Fluency practice: negotiation about the authenticity of an image.

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Time: 30 mins.


1 Show class the two images

2 Students work in pairs / groups to decide which is fake/real and explain why. Is it something to do with the context, the light, the colour, the position of the shadow?

Answer: Image X is the fake one. The photographer – Hiroshi Sugimoto – took a stuffed polar bear and placed it into a naturalistic context. The seal seems to have just been killed by the bear. Sugimoto took his inspiration for this ‘montage’ from the dioramas in New York’s Museum of Natural History. When looked at in museum cabinets, the animals seem totally fake, but change the context and the eye begins to play tricks.

3 As an extension, students draw up a list of ways that you can fake an image. For example:

a images can be doctored for political reasons, for example in order to portray a more sympathetic look.

b photoshopping and other techniques can be used to improve or to make aesthetic improvements to people’s faces or bodies.


1 Take a look at this BBC site and see if you identify these real/fake smiles:



is another good place to look for real/fake images to use in class.

2 Students can manipulate their own digital images at these sites:





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