‘Kingsmead Eyes Speak’ is a radical collaboration between the children and staff of Kingsmead Primary School and photographers Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes . A class of 10 year old pupils spent an intensive week working with the photographers in the school, then a month documenting their friends, families, community and school life.
During this time they brought their images back for in-depth editing sessions and class discussions, which deepened their subsequent use of the camera. With their unique access and insight, the children created this fresh and visually challenging body of work. Each child brought a 'signature' picture to Kingsmead School’s poet in residence, Joelle Taylor and used it to spark a poem about their life and photographic work.
Kingsmead Eyes Speak is the latest project of 3EyesOn, the practice set up by Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes, enabling pupils to show their lives and cultures in a way outside the scope of traditional documentary photography while building bonds between schools and communities.
Kingsmead Eyes Speak is a Creative Partnership project.
Photography - Gideon and Crispin worked with a class of 30 Yr 5 pupils for two blocks of one week. The first week focused on understanding documentary photography, how photographs work on us and on developing practical skills through supported local excursions using the cameras in small groups. The second week focused on the editing process. These two weeks were separated by a month of intensive independent photography of their home lives by the children.
The first block started with a class discussion of the concept and aims of the project. By looking at documentary photography the children were encouraged to see how remarkable their own lives are and what they might accomplish using the cameras. Press cards were distributed and a discussion of the etiquette of photographing others took place. On day one the class were split into groups of 3 to go through camera care and controls and to carry out brief practical photographic exercises in class. Following this the children rapidly started to use the cameras on a series of creative exercises working in small groups with a set of 10 cameras shared between the class of 30. Working on themes such as light, movement, gesture and repetition the children developed an awareness of how photographs are consciously made, not just ‘taken’.
During the week each child had the opportunity to go out in a small group with Crispin or Gideon to have a guided photographic experience in the locality of the school. That evening those same children took the cameras home. A number of assignments were suggested but the children were encouraged to use the camera to speak visually in whatever way they chose. An integral part of their training during this week was to learn how to use the self timer and small tripods, to encourage them to take on the challenge of self portraiture.
Once pupils had been inspired and enthused they showed a remarkable learning curve. Each child had the opportunity to progress from one to one support to independent and self-directed work at home. By the end of the first block every child had taken the camera home at least once.
During the intervening month the children all took turns to take the cameras home during weekday evenings and over weekends and Jack, the class teacher, ensured that the children had the opportunity to use the cameras to record any special family events or particular occasions at home that they wanted to photograph.
The children were involved in the editing process at all stages from an initial one to one process where Crispin and Gideon went through their images with them, to larger group edits with the whole class. Together the photos were graded from 1* through to 5*. This process developed their critical skills and self esteem while promoting understanding of the different lives and cultures within the class.
By the end of the second block a final editing session resolved one 5* signature image for each child, plus a set of additional best photographs. Each child’s final 4* & 5* photos can be seen under the Gallery tab on their individual page.
The 5* signature image was then used as the point of departure for the poetry writing element of the project delivered by Joelle Taylor.
Her work with the class began with them learning to read images, scanning them for the multitude of possible narratives contained within each photograph, generating a series of stories until one was found that the class wanted to work on. They then talked through how the poem could be written, what the stages in it would be and the possible conclusion and went on to write the poem as a whole class. This exercise was repeated several times before Joelle moved on to working with the children on their own individual poems, concluding with each child composing a creative response to their 5* signature photograph. The challenge for the student was to look at the photograph they had taken as though they had never seen it before. Their task was not to give a literal description of the image, but to imaginatively explore what the story 'might' be. Some of the resulting poems are surreal, some are comic, some thoughtful or pensive. All are adventures in imagination which provide a precious insight into the minds, lives and aspirations of each child. The children understood that writing poetry can be another way of taking photographs.
The project used ten compact cameras chosen to fulfil the following criteria:
- • High quality wide angle (25mm equivalent) lens.
- • Image stabilization. One of the most difficult things to teach children is to hold the camera very steady in low light. Image stabilisation allows the pupils to take photos indoors without using flash which is vital to the success of the project.
- • Ability to turn off the internal flash and keep it off even once the camera has been switched off and on again. This is essential to prevent many of the pictures being blighted by obtrusive flash and to teach children to actually observe and think about the light and their environment.
- • Rechargeable lithium ion battery with enough life to carry a child through a weekend of photography.
- • A minimal shutter lag and good focussing to allow children to take un-posed documentary style images.
- • Appropriate megapixel count. Compact cameras with a very high count currently tend to perform badly in low light.
- • Small enough and robust enough for use by primary school age children.
Other camera equipment:
- • 4GB SD cards were used in the cameras. This allowed the children to shoot hundreds of images on one card.
- • Soft cases with a neck strap.
- • Small flexible tripods to enable the children to use the camera on self-timer.
Digital Asset Management:
- • Three laptops.
- • Media Pro editing and cataloguing software.
- • Silverlining backup software.
- • Three 500gb or larger hard drives including one RAID drive.
- • USB memory sticks.
- • Classroom video projectors.
Gideon Mendel is regarded as a leading contemporary photographer. His intimate style of socially engaged image making, much of it dealing with HIV/AIDS in Africa and other pressing global issues, has earned him international acclaim. He has won six World Press Photo Awards, the Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography and the Amnesty International Media Award. In his current practice he is engaged with a variety of innovative projects often involving collaborative work along with a mix of photography and video. He is also developing a body of work on the global impact of flooding and climate change on the world’s poorest people.
Crispin Hughes’ work appears regularly in the national and international press; a founder member of Photofusion, he’s also been with Panos Pictures since 1990 when he began covering conflicts in South Sudan, Rwanda, Angola and Somalia. He’s exhibited at The Photographers’ Gallery, The Imperial War Museum, Museum of London, National Portrait Gallery and many others. Active consent has always characterized his photography, making pictures a collaboration whenever possible. Participatory photography work has involved teenage asylum seekers in London, HIV+ adults in Mexico, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, and children in UK primary schools.
Kingsmead Eyes Speak is the latest project of 3EyesOn, the practice set up by Gideon Mendel and Crispin Hughes to enable pupils to show their lives and cultures. Working beyond the scope of traditional documentary photography the children’s images also help build bonds between schools and communities.
Joelle Taylor is an award winning poet, playwright and novelist, who has toured both nationally and internationally with the British Council. She is the Artistic Director of SLAMbassadors UK for the Poetry Society and is also the UK team coach. Her new book Ska Tissue is out now.
Kingsmead School is a one form entry primary school situated on the Kingsmead Estate in Hackney. The estate, home to many of the pupils, is recognised as among the highest 4% for deprivation in the UK. The estate has suffered from a negative reputation in the past but conditions have improved in recent years and regeneration initiatives have encouraged a stronger sense of community. The school has played a major role in this turnaround, striving to achieve the highest standards with academic achievement well above the national average with 100% of its children achieving the age expected level 4 or above for English at the end of their time at Kingsmead, which is all the more impressive considering that 85% of pupils speak English as a second language. The school has a remarkable diversity of pupils with family origins from at least 46 different countries.
The success and creativity of the school has long been a source of local pride. Recent achievements include a Gold Artsmark award in 2010 in recognition of the school’s commitment to providing opportunities across all artforms. Since 2008 Kingsmead School has been part of the Change School programme run by A New Direction, supporting the creative development of the whole school over the course of three years. Kingsmead’s focus for this programme has been the development of oracy skills across the school through the creative curriculum.
Evelyn Deeney Arts Co-ordinator
Jack Evans Class Teacher
Letitia Gyamfi, Roderick Ryan Digital Asset Management
Roderick Ryan Audio technician
Louise Nichols (Head Teacher), Emma de Sausmarez Project Co-ordinators
Andy Brockie is a web / interactive designer and front-end web developer with over tens years of professional experience in the design industry. He focuses on editorial led design projects across both mobile and desktop platforms.
Mo Stoebe, video editor for the multimedia element of Kingsmead Eyes Speak, was born in Austria and gained an MA from the Royal College of Art. He is a director, animator and visual artist who works with a variety of tools to create graphic moving images.
Steve Bewes, Dorinia Harley and Desrine Nelson. Steel pans, drumming and singing performed by Kingsmead School pupils.