Tuesday, June 22, 2010

School Photo Project

For the last several months I have been working at Charles Dickens Elementary School with students from kindergarten to grade two. We have just mounted  a very exciting display of their photographic work.

The photographs on display themselves, are a beautiful and diverse display of talent. However, the underlining narratives of the work and the intimacy of the subject matter make for an extremely moving exhibition. The students have undertaken to document a fragment of their lives and the results are a startling affirmation of the small beauty of being alive.

Significantly, many of the most compelling works were derived from students who have limited English communication proficiency. For these kids, the photography was an excellent opportunity to tell us about the world they live in and what they care about.

Please join me for a guided tour of the exhibition: WEDNESDAY JUNE 23rd 3:45 - 4:45. Charles Dickens Elementary, 3351 Glen Dr. (entrance on 17th St.)


I worked with one group of six students every week. At the beginning of the week, I presented the project to the group, showed a slideshow of my work and/or other students work and discussed how photography can be used to document things that are important to them in their lives. Together we brainstormed  things (objects, people, places etc.) from their lives that they would like to take pictures of validating that any subject matter could be a great picture . Cheap, identical, 9 MP, plastic lensed digital cameras were distributed to each kid whereupon they received some instruction on some fundamental concepts of photography and the use of some basic functions of the camera (self-timer, disabling the flash, and reviewing their content. And then, off into the world they went armed to take up to 712 pictures.

At the end of the week, they returned with their cameras and I downloaded the images onto my computer. The group reconvened and together we went through all of the images that each student took. As we were flipping through the content, I tagged all of the images that generated excitement from either myself, the teacher's aid, the photographer or his/her peers.

The children were excited by the project but, while the students who had yet to participate waited in anticipation for their turn, the students you were selected earlier, craved further engagement with their images and the process. Using the selected images (which accounted for approximately 25% of the total images taken, I printed enormous 24" X 72" contact prints which were cut up into a small package of images that were distributed to every student. In total, approximately 1000 small card-like prints were distributed to the 42 students.

The classroom teachers sent the package of cards home along with a notice asking the families to remove any cards that they wished to be omitted from the ongoing work. Thereafter, the students selected a number of images that they wished to display as well as a favourite that was printed as an 8.5" X 11" enlargement. Their selections, the enlargement, a portrait of themselves, a brief biographical statement and an explanation on why they choose the image they did for enlargement was mounted on a sheet of black bristle board. et viola c'est ca.

The project statement  can be found here.

And the original slideshow which I showed to the kids to start the project can be found here.

Don't hesitate to leave your thoughts and/or feedback.


  1. love it so much! thanks for describing how you went about it. is there anything you would do differently if you were to do it again?

    one thing i really like is the public sharing aspect of this, and how you went through all these layers of involvement from different parties - peers, you the facilitator, school staff, the child and also his or her family.

    i wish i were there to come see!

  2. hello nostalgia,

    i was actually thinking of you while i documented my process.

    as another layer of involvement, all of the classes in the school are scheduled to tour the exhibition and the kids are taking turns standing by their work answering questions, explaining their work etc.

    altogether, i've found that a photograph is a good metaphor for memory. the singular photographic image changes with every new interaction just as our memories change and evolve. in my own work i've always found it satisfying to consider my changing relationship to the images at the different stages of my interaction with them. i think this felt good to the students as well and helped to deepen their appreciation of the representations of their own lives.

    i really need to share so much credit with the teachers who really stepped up to the plate and embraced the project putting so much time, energy and excitement into the project.

    i wish you were here too!

  3. Hi Zev,
    I hope I can make it (read your announcement at 12:41 - and am looking at bike routes...). Whether I get there or not, "Kol haKavod l'cha!"
    Maxine (who started taking pictures in grade 5 and hasn't stopped since. . . .)