Constructing identity

This activity involves visually constructing the identity of a character through role play, costume, props and backgrounds to create a ‘staged photograph’. This activity could be done in pairs or in a small group.  

It would be useful preparation for this activity to look at the work of artists such as Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman or Tracey Moffatt to consider how these artists explore aspects of identity through creating staged images. 

  • Identify a ‘character type’ that has a distinctive identity. You could consider character types from history (for example, fashionable women or men of particular periods), different social groups (the wealthy heiress, oppressed worker, business tycoon, crazy professor etc), popular culture and everyday life (the glamorous movie star, laid-back farmer, troublesome teenager, computer geek) sub-cultures (Goths, punks) etc. Consider the different factors that give your chosen character type their distinctive identity. This may include clothing, physical characteristics, and attitude.
  • Nominate someone in your group as a model for this character type and source appropriate costumes and props to start constructing an image of this character.
  • Create an appropriate setting for your character. This may involve painting, constructing or collaging a backdrop.
  • Compose your photograph, directing your model to pose and reflect an attitude that suits the identity of the character type you are constructing.
  • In composing your photograph consider how to ‘frame’ your image (close-up view, cropping etc) and use light (spotlighting, natural light etc) for maximum visual impact.
  • Create a class display of the finished results. As a group discuss and describe the characters depicted in each image and how different groups have effectively constructed the identity of their character types.
  • Is there any relationship between constructing an identity for a photograph with the way identity is formed or expressed in real life? Explain.

Another perspective

This activity involves appropriating an aspect of an existing artwork that presents a particular perspective on identity to create a new artwork that presents another perspective on identity.

It would be helpful preparation for this activity to look at the work of Anne Zahalka in the Identity NGV Collection Story and to view the Australian Impressionism online education resource for a short introduction to how contemporary artists including Zahalka and Diane Jones have appropriated some iconic Australian paintings to present new perspectives on national identity.

Consider also how the iconic painting Collins St, 5.p.m, 1955 by John Brack is referenced in the work of the contemporary artist Kate Beynon. Download the John Brack education resource (PDF)

View the artworks and read the entries in the NGV Collection Story – Identity.

  • Choose an artwork that you believe presents a particular perspective on identity.
  • Consider what it is about this image that communicates this perspective. What aspect of this image could you reference or rework to create a new artwork that presents another idea about identity?
  • Create your artwork in a medium of your choice.
  • Check the copyright restrictions on using the work of other artists to make sure that what you plan to do is acceptable practice.
  • Create a class display of the finished results. Discuss why particular artworks were referenced or reworked. How have different images been reworked or referenced? What ideas about identity have been communicated as a result? Do you believe that referencing or reworking aspects of the work of another artists is valid or appropriate in making new art? Give reasons.

Shearing the rams 1890
oil on canvas on composition board
122.4 x 183.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1932


An exploration of identity, including historical and contemporary perspectives on national, cultural and personal identity in Australian art.

Go to Identity stories
Psychogeography (1996); (1998) {printed}
from the Psycho series 1996, in The mutant genome project 1994-
type C photograph
120.6 x 258.4 cm (image) 126.9 x 278.8 cm (sheet)
ed. 1/6
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Optus Communications Pty Limited, Member, 1998
© Courtesy of the artist

Landscape and environment

Australian artists explore, observe and respond to the landscape and nature, recording both the environment and our relationship with it.

Go to Landscape and environment stories
William Barak
Figures in possum skin cloaks 1898
pencil, wash, charcoal solution, gouache and earth pigments on paper
57.0 x 88.8 cm (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1962


Land of the Wurundjeri and the making of Melbourne, from marvellous to modern, told by the NGV Collection of Australian art.

Go to Melbourne stories