This project was delayed due to Covid but we finally got a start on the workshops and the exhibition last September 2021. I invited a fellow artist to co-curate the exhibition with me mainly due to the fact that Livingston Skate Park is legendary within the skate community. I was never a skater and it felt like there should be someone from the park’s history involved. Chris Young came on board to assist with the workshops and curation of the exhibition which was displayed at Howden Park Centre, Livingston from September 2021 until March 2022. Chris grew up in Livingston and was a frequent visitor to the park as a young person before pursuing a career as an artist with a specialism in graffitti art.
The interesting thing about this exhibition was the sourcing of images. I put a call out to park users to get some local images and we didn’t get any submissions form anyone under the age of 40! What became obvious as we worked on this was that it was the older park users or those from the park’s past who were interested in submitting images, and connecting with the history of the park itself. We bought together the archive images from the parks designer Iain Urquhart and it’s unofficial custodian Kenny Omond. I enjoyed working with plain backing paper as a sustrate for printing. We showed many images by the photographer Tim Leighton-Boyce who’s achive is managed by RAD. These iconc images gave some context ot the park’s past illustrating the number of times reknowned skate boarders from the UK and US who visited the park. There is a hope that this exhibition will assist in the development of an official archive of Livingston Skate Park.
I also got the chance to exhibit some black and white portraits I had taken at the skate park in 1999 and had never shown.
Chris also created some new artwork at the park itself based on old skateboarding motifs and logos.
I am, as usual, ashamed to say that i was too busy working to take many process shots of the group working. The advantage of this project is that we had some extra cameras for the groups to use and document our working- we were too busy to spend much time doing this and i don’t have permission for some of the images but here’s some that we can show- just remember my mantra “we’re not here to have fun”!!!!
This group wrote a lovely story which i have published below. As you can see it’s quite a long story but as they wrote it it just got better and better and really highlights the children’s talents for creativity and imagination- i think it also demonstrates how it’s a fairly hands-off approach to their writing and image editing…
Below are some of the additional images from the Disney Dogs shoot- these pictures just make me smile- so much comedy and fun from this group…
For this post i would like to talk about the writing element to the project. I am not a writer by any means but the writing was given as much time as the photographs, with much assistance from the teachers. After a class discussion about photography we introduced the project itself. Below is the information sheet sent to teaching staff prior to this lesson. After several meetings and emails i had a good understanding of what we could achieve and this allowed me to accurately research and then inform teaching staff;
PICTURE MAKING WITH WRITING AND CRITICAL THINKING
TO BUILD ON INFORMATION CHILDREN ALREADY NATURALLY POSSESS
TO INCREASE LITERACY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
We will learn how to use photography to illustrate our stories
We will use photography to show a range of human emotions
We will learn camera techniques to introduce light and darkness, to give mood and emotion to our pictures which will illuminate our stories
We will learn how to capture movement with our cameras
We will learn how to take better pictures
Inspire, inform, connect, values for schools, determination, resilience, excellence, community spirit, confidence, leadership, communication, peace, understanding
We will look at the skills required for each of the sports in the Games and how these are different for a runner compared to a weightlifter compared to a shooter
We will look at the skills required to become a world-class athlete;
Determination, stamina, confidence, state of mind, diet, training programme
We will find stories of past Commonwealth games in Scotland (Edinburgh 1970 & 1986)
We will look to develop our own sport for inclusion in the Commonwealth games which takes it’s inspiration from what we have around us
We will look at the theatre, drama and spectacle in sporting events
We will look to the animal kingdom for comparisons in human athletes
We will look at the cult of winning prizes- is it winning or taking part? What about those who come second? Or third?
We will think about what equipment is used, how it is made and by whom
We will look at the human body and it’s capapbilities
We will look at sport as a tool for revolution
We will try to imagine how it feels to be at the Games;
Who comes second
Who has trained hard
Who have travelled very far to be here
All the writing created by the groups was inspired by the above. The main thing for me was to try and have them see past the obvious Hussein Bolt runs 100m race and wins a gold medal. The children’s imaginitive ideas far surpassed my expectations. They would spend a few hours with me creating their ideas using mind-maps and then writing up their stories on the computer, and adding their proposed image ideas. I did not interfere with their writing process, and the children were more than adept and confident at managing their writing on their own- they actually informed me! I learned about ‘wow’ words for starters!!
As an example, here are the World-Wide Webbers making their mind-map for their idea of the Games being open to people of varying ability…
Once the children have written up their word document of story/image/props list/list of tasks i email it to their teacher who then works with the children to ‘upscale’ their story. I provided nice heavy paper and writing pens for the children to write their stories up ready for me to scan and lay on to their images in Photoshop. Below is the World Wide Webbers written text without any editing in Photoshop…
The writing process is something that is started with me and finished with their teacher in class. Once their story is finished the children then do a test shoot to work out their best angle of view, composition, timing, etc. Below are some of the test shoots done by the Webbers demonstrating their ideas…
These practice images demonstrate composition and help the children work out props and pose- in this series it became obvious which hand the ball should be in and what the crop should be. This informs how they should pose their model for the final shoot. The Webbers chose to ask the school secretary, Mrs. Mockery to pose for their image. It was their responsibility to ask Mrs Mockery, plan her session and organise the props and costume. This maintains their ownership of the work and reinforces their responsibility.
Here are some of their images from their shoot with Mrs Mockery…
Below is their chosen final image- they liked the determination in Mrs Mockery’s eyes and the pose was good…You can still make out the symbols showing which country she plays for and what the actual sport is. I should also add that all the teaching staff loved seeing Mrs Mockery in the photographs…
I am going to use several of the finished images from the Talking Pictures project which finished at the end of June, to talk about how we made the work. With thanks to the teachers i got lots of the model release forms returned. We worked on the project for approximately 3 months and there’s more information about it in my previous post…
Bearing in mind the project ran from April to June and that is the busiest term for schools it was important to make sure that we developed a way of working that caused the least amount of disruption to the classes. We began with a few lessons to the whole class. The first time i met the children we had a class discussion on the power of photography and the power of the image. I showed them photographs by August Sander, Richard Avedon and Helen Levitt. We discussed the different cameras used by each of these photographers, narrative in photography, reading a photograph, labelling their subjects and in the case of Helen Levitt the morality of using a fake lens on the side of her camera to photograph her subjects without their knowledge. The discussions were robust and the children were engaged.
Many of the images from the shoot day with the Wild Wolves were just wonderful (to be fair all the groups worked hard on their shoot days). The model, C really embraced the role, blocked out what was happening around him and posed without inhibition. I added a selection of images from each group’s shoot to a closed album in flickr and sent it to the teachers. The children and their teachers were then able to choose the one they liked best. They were asked to consider which one best represented their story, and the one with best exposure, composition, and where the model was best posed. This was a democratic process done by the whole class which removed any decisions made through favouritism and also boosted the confidence of the models themselves. It made them feel part of a team working towards a common goal.
Below is the final edit but i’ve also included a few other layout ideas the children and their teachers had to choose from…The exhibition images were always going to be 20×24″ so we decided on the text taking up a smaller space as it would always be readable at the selected print size.
Choice of edit with text on image. Choice of edit where text is below image
The children began with their practice shots. As you can see the day we worked on the practice shots the Wild Wolves had the luxury of working in a classroom! It allowed us to practice setting up the background stands and practice pose. From my perspective it’s also good practice for me to make sure that i am working to that delicate balance of demonstrating and teaching but still allowing the children full creative control.
A few of the practice shots- looking at angle of view, crop, expression, colour cast, location and camera practice.
This images demonstrates how the Wild Wolves worked. All the group members took turns each at being the main photographer. As you can see this image was taken by a group member. I am demonstrating to E how to hold the reflector (most of the children found this to be the most boring job)! This image also demonstrates how the photographs can be taken anywhere with the right kit- in this case some cheap stands and black background. As earlier stated, space is at a premium in every school i have ever worked in so it’s better to work outside to avoid being shifted every 50 minutes which is never long enough to get set up. Working with natural daylight is also one of the best sources of light which adds to the quality of the image- finally look at all that space! No tables or cupboards or chairs to tidy away!
I’d like to share a project I have been working on for a few months now, in a Primary school in the Falkirk area that received some funding to create a photography exhibition and book for the baton relay event cutting through Falkirk on the 24th June. The working title for this is Talking Pictures which gives you a good flavour of their project.
Up to this point the children have been writing stories which take as their theme the values of the Commonwealth Games. Now i am not a sporty person (to put it mildly) but it’s actually been more interesting than i thought it was going to be!
To begin with, and after much planning, I spent several sessions with the two P4 classes (aged 8/9 years) talking about photography and how, through observation, we can ‘read’ photographs. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me and demonstrated just how imaginitive and observant children can be when presented with an image and asked to discuss it. The planning with the teachers has been great and we are about half way through the groups writing up their stories which they will then illustrate with a photograph. I have been getting feedback from the teachers about the children’s stories and they are very happy with them. I can see how the children’s learning in class is enhancing their work with me and the teachers can see how the ‘reading photographs’ exercises are enhancing the children’s learning too. Today one of the boys mentioned that they should use ‘wow’ words in their story (i had to ask what these are and they’re words like suddenly, immediately etc). I try to feed back to teaching staff when this happens.
It’s great to see a project working with all involved engaged and observing the progress bit by bit. Here are a few images of the children working on their story writing- when it’s sunny i like to take the groups outside to write, it frees up space in the school and let’s us all enjoy the fresh air (see above- below is their mind-maps, or hedgehogs)!
The next stage in this project is to think about how to bring these stories to life. I had the children do an ideas shoot for pose, and write a list of props and where their photograph will be taken. I have had them speak to staff members about appearing in their pictures, and ask around for certain props required. I have included a test shot for one of the stories since the football (acting as a substitute for a lawn bowl) obscures this pupil’s face sufficiently. We will be shooting in and around the school so teaching the children the value of cropping is been invaluable. Classroom space in this school is at a premium so we will be shooting outdoors in a marquee. The children will be in charge of taking the pictures (my job is to set up lighting and camera controls only)! Simultaneously, as the groups photograph, the teachers are re-working and hand-writing the stories in class. I will then scan the selected hand-written story and add to the image. As much as i would like to work with the children to teach them basic Photoshop it’s not possible at this time as it’s just too painfully near the end of term so i have arranged some CPD sessions with teaching and support staff in the new year. I hope to get parental permission to include as many of these finished photographs and stories, and of course will continue to document and write about this process as we continue, including quotes from the children and teaching staff. Time allowing.
I have been doing some reading on Man Ray recently- he is an artist known to most photographers for his pioneering Rayograms and solarisation and if, like me you trained in photography pre-digital days you would have experimented with these techniques in the darkroom.
The quote above is from a letter Man Ray wrote to an artist friend who’s work he greatly admired. Knud Merrild was a Dutch post-surrealist and modernist artist who ended up in California the same time as May Ray (who fled Paris in August 1940). Merrild’s work was bought and admired by several great artists and writers but he never gained the fame and notoriety of his contemporaries. He suffered a heart attack and returned to Denmark where he died in 1954.
Recently there has been much press about the cut in arts funding across the whole of the UK and It’s got me to thinking about how little the arts are valued within modern society- I mean good art- art that makes you think and feel emotion and want to do and try harder in your own practice- not the insipid zombie art people buy to match their sofas, or the kind of art that is all about the ego of the artist (I still long for the day when we have a row of plaster cast dicks from all of the well-known artists still alive lined up on pedestals in order of size from small to large and the largest one gets to be ‘top artist of the world’).
I like this quote because it offers hope and that is something all artists need to keep going- without hope there is nothing as an artist. I know we need it across every facet of life but it is the one thing that keeps me going- the idea that the ‘thing’ I am creating at that present moment will give me satisfaction and, in turn, perhaps inspire others, provoke an emotion in them or change how they think or feel about a certain something. But I also like the fact that Man Ray uses the word ‘illusion’ as if Merrild is creating some sort of magical world (or personality). Like a great author, Man Ray is lost in Merrild’s work- the illusion has taken hold and is all-encompasing to the point of obsession. I’ve had a few art obsessions – most recently travelling to Vienna to see Klimt’s The Kiss and while there discovering the Striking Heads of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt- all these journeys in art, where just reading a few lines about a certain artist takes me deeper and deeper in to a journey.
But back to Man Ray and his love of Merrild’s work. We do not compliment each other enough or reward ourselves with a moment of happiness before moving on to our next creative obsession. It doesn’t matter that the world has not sat up and taken note of our latest creative outpouring. What is important is the journey and the acknowledgement from those who get it- whose opinion is treasured (not friends- they will always tell you they like it with little critical discussion). I can imagine Merrild’s happiness at receiving this letter from Man Ray and the impact it potentially had on his work- how such a letter could push his work on further and inspire him to keep going.
We are careering towards the launch of the Future Self exhibition in Stirling on Monday and it’s down to the last few tasks- order the vinyl lettering and layout the interpretation text and then it’s just the 113 portraits to hang!! Writing the interpretation text is the bit i don’t like doing- it’s really hard to concentrating three month’s work in to a few sentences. I want to write about all the planning meetings, upload all the worksheets, show you the photographs the children took themselves, share their funny anecdotes, tell you more about them and their stories. Until then, here’s a little formal writing on the project…
“Future Self is a photography project which aims to support children and young people at the transition stage within primary school before going up to high school.
Future Self supported children and young people from the Primary 7 classes of Bannockburn, Cornton and Fallin Primary Schools to explore what they might like to do in the future with regards to career or further study, reflecting too on how they might change in the coming years and the skills they need or would like to develop. As they reflect on their time at primary school and look forward to starting high school, Future Self aims to use transition work being done by class teachers as a starting point for reflection on their school career to date and how they may develop and hone their skills whilst at high school to realise their ideas for future careers.
Through discussion and exploration in class and at home, and creatively through photography and costume, the children created a double photographic self-portrait of themselves as they are now and who they think they might be in 20 years time. The children are encouraged when taking the photograph of them as they are now, to consider a piece of advice they should give their future selves to enable their career goals. Then, using costume and make-up the children are transformed into that ‘future self’ and re-photographed. These two separate images are then merged in Photoshop and here today are the 113 portraits of the children who took part in the project.
At the beginning of the project the children visited the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and learned about pose and symbolism in art. Back in class the children learned about representation in photography and how the way we choose to represent ourselves in public can reflect upon our later lives.
Future Self has reached a broad spectrum of children across Stirling. Engaging in creative experiences can create a thriving learning environment, transforming levels of aspiration, enthusiasm, motivation, self esteem, critical thinking and openness to new ideas.”