Enthusing young minds gives young people in East Yorkshire the opportunity to experience photography using historic alternative photographic processes and methods.
How did the “Enthusing young minds” project start?
Chris G. Smith: I am the proud owner of a large collection of vintage cameras. I hate the idea of cameras just being used as display pieces, so I make sure all of mine get used. I thought it might be nice to offer this out as an experience for people to try photography using vintage cameras (box brownies, folding cameras, SLRs, TLRs, rangefinders) and learn to develop their own pictures.
During my first module on the MA, I had to look at interdisciplinary practices and this was where the Enthusing Young Minds project was born. This experience I’d set up had a few interdisciplinary practices already; as well as photography, it was about learning and educating. After a chat with my tutor at that point, I was reminded of my first experience in a darkroom many years before and the feelings of awe as I watched that first print come to life before my eyes. It’s a feeling I wanted to pass on to the next generation in the hope that I could contribute to the revival of analogue photography.
The first phase of the project was to loan out my box cameras to the Young Aspiring Artists (participants), and there were three briefs for them:
- Free Reign: They had the opportunity and freedom to photograph what they wanted.
- See Me: They had eight questions to answer about themselves using the eight shots on the roll of film.
- Remember When: They use the film in the camera to tell a story that would normally be shared with friends or family when they start the story with “Do you remember when…”
The first two, Free Reign and See Me, allows them to show us, the consumer, what they want to show us, have their voices heard and show us how they see the world and themselves. Remember When, on the other hand, is about them developing their visual literacy skills.
As I moved through the 3rd module of the MA, Sustainable Strategies, I challenged myself to learn more sustainable ways to continue my practices and learned about developing negatives with caffenol and ,because of this, I looked further into alternative processes. I spoke with one of my tutors in particular who uses alternative processes and she recommended anthotypes.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about anthotypes and experimenting with different emulsions and felt this would be a great way to teach the participants to print their images with as little impact on our beautiful planet as possible.
At a time when the “cost of living crisis” is having a devastating impact on the UK, I felt that—as this is a very cheap, (if not free) way to print—the participants can still produce work of their own without the worry of having to spend money and still have access to the arts.
After my own experiments to see what might work best in a workshop for the young participants, I ran two workshops (so far… more workshops to come to give the rest of the participants the opportunity to take part). These showed the participants how to create the emulsion, coat the paper and about the transparencies (which I produced for them), and that they can make photograms using leaves as an example. One of the young ladies then replicated the workshop, teaching two other children who currently have not been involved with the project, transforming from the learner to being the teacher which really made me proud. She and her younger brother then started to experiment on their own with plants from their mother’s garden, making their own emulsions and adding leaves to create imprints of them.
I shall be attending some workshops by The Sustainable Darkroom in Leeds, UK in September to learn more about sustainable practices which I hope to incorporate into the project to make my participants more conscious of their practices going forward.
Just on another note, I will be exhibiting the printed works and the anthotypes produced by the participants in Hull City Centre, UK in October, with the possibility of giving anthotype demonstrations to the public at the exhibition, in the hope of promoting more people to try this eco-friendly artform.
Is the project funded?
Chris G. Smith: I have recently received a grant which is specifically for one of the next phases of the project. The grant of £1000 was awarded by the Richards and Siobhan Coward Photography Foundation for the promotion of analogue photography and is/has been spent on an old caravan to be restored and turned into a mobile darkroom which can be taken to schools, community groups and youth groups in order to give the full experience of analogue photography, from shooting the images to final prints.
Apart from this grant, for which I am eternally grateful, I have self-funded my entire project. I have not charged for the participation, and I do not intend to either, as the point of this project is to enthuse and promote the next generation of photographers, and to be as inclusive as possible, thus removing the barrier of cost to them. I also travel to them if they’re unable to travel, which breaks down yet another barrier, making this more accessible.
That said, I am unable to fund this project indefinitely, so at present, I am seeking out sources of funding. I believe this project could be much bigger and continue past the end of my MA studies given the right support.
Who are the participants in the project?
Chris G. Smith: The participants are all local kids, from Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. I knew a couple of their parents and offered them the opportunity, which they accepted. They then directed other parents to me who also thought this was a great idea. And I’ve had another couple of participants who came to me after seeing an article in the local newspaper about the project.
They range from age 5 up to 17, although the youngest to take part in the anthotypes was aged 9. The two children who attended a workshop put on by one of my participants were aged 7 and 9.
- M. Doyle – Age 17
- J. Doyle – Age 9
- I. Riley – Age 11
- N. Keogh – Age 5
- I. Keogh – Age 5
- T. Keogh – Age 13
- D. Welham – Age 16
- M. Welham – Age 14
- C. Huntley – Age 16
- J. Keogh – Age 13
If I understand it correctly, you are currently studying for a Masters in Photography with Falmouth University? How do you divide your time?
Chris G. Smith: I work my normal shifts throughout the week, typically 8 am-4 pm, Monday to Friday (although for August and September, I’m on 6 am-6 pm shifts). This leaves me a few hours in the evenings and all weekend to work on the project. During my breaks at work, I’ll be reading papers or books, and further researching where I can, but my time is extremely limited. Most of the participants were available most weekends, which has been very helpful.
What is the most surprising thing you learned from the project?
Chris G. Smith: There have been so many things that have surprised me. I was surprised at how easy and fun the anthotypes were to create and very surprised and proud that a participant carried out the anthotype workshop of her own accord. But by far, the most surprising thing I have learned is that young people see the world so differently from adults and we have so much to learn from them!
I was advised that the Free Reign phase of the project was dangerous because I have no idea what the kids will take pictures of, and it could just end up being a huge waste of film and time with potentially no usable pictures. What came back from the participants was so far from what anyone expected. They took photographs of subjects that had meaning to them; they were packed with semiotics in each photo; and they were deliberate, too! This is something I’d expect from A-level and degree students, not from young kids with no prior knowledge of analogue photography or prior learning in any form of photography.