Back in the Spring of 2020, as the United Kingdom was imminently following Europe’s lead and locking down as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, I received the welcome news, via email, of a two year part-time post with Beaford Arts working with a small team and delivering a storytelling project through photography, art and film to primary school children.
I had often been asked to contribute to the development of the project, A Voice To Tell Our Story (AVTTOS), over the proceeding few years, as a freelance photographer and educator. The timing of receiving funding for the project was evidently on a knife edge because the threat of Covid had put everything on hold. The Project was to start in September 2020, and my two years beginning a year later. However, delays through lockdown of schools ultimately meant that my start, in a physical face-to-face sense in the classrooms, wasn’t until January 2022.
In 2021 there were many planning meetings with team members, Caroline Preston who led the project and was responsible for the Art side, Lisa Schneidau storyteller, and Matt Biggs filmmaker. It started virtually, via Zoom, and became in person later on. However, Covid still prevented me experiencing any time in the schools until Caroline and Lisa’s very last session with each class. After this I started to really grasp what the project was all about.
I was to essentially teach photographic skills, alongside Matt teaching filmmaking, to primary school children 6 to 10 years old. All of the project equipment had to be bought prior to seeing the schools or meeting the children or teachers. This itself was a nightmare, because of the huge uncertainties that Covid brought on international trade – the 8 Panasonic Lumix 10 cameras all ultimately coming from China.
Despite my many years of teaching full-time to adults and 16+ year-olds, no amount of planning meetings, without classroom experience, would ever prepare me for walking into the schools in January 2022. The biggest problem was gauging the level at which to teach photography. The 10-year-olds would pick up things for more quickly than six-year-olds but how much. how would I be able to keep the children engaged in learning if there were not continually things to learn? I didn’t want to make the cameras automated because the children would simply point-and-shoot just like they might with a smartphone, but I couldn’t make things so complex that they would lose interest through the bar being set too high. It’s not as if a handbook was even available because primary school children simply aren’t taught photography!
The children were very excited to have Matt and I in the classroom. Firstly we introduced ourselves and showed them examples of the kind of photographic and film work that we do. later, on the very first day, we introduced them to the cameras, film (GoPro) and Lumix, that they would be using and encouraged them to start to play with them and make pictures. it was fascinating right from day one seeing what kind of things the children would see through the camera lens, how they might compose, what took their interest. I always wanted to give those children enough room to make their own choices in the picture making process so that photographs through child’s eyes were produced instead of simply copying an adult.