‘Lathom Primary School – A Life Like Mine’ is a participatory photography project undertaken by Crispin Hughes and Gideon Mendel with 115 pupils aged from 8-9 that allowed the children to photograph their lives in Eastham in the East End of London. Every child took a camera home for the evening and were told to document their lives in that evening. It was an evening in Winter where the children were sent home to photograph so most of the images seen are shot inside their homes or their bedrooms, with only a few shot outside.
I’ve selected a range of images from the children’s work that I really like as I thought it was a lovely example of participatory photography, because it let the children explore their own lives through photography and create a group project and aesthetic that was unique to their age group and the area that they live in.
The images produced by the children are a fantastic contrast between the different religions in their age groups as well as the different activities the children undertake of an evening. I love the range of clothing worn and the cultural insights we get into the children’s lives. The photographs are implicitly personal in a way that a standard photographer going into each of these homes wold not achieve. The children have been able to capture their most intimate moments in their homes with their families.
Majority of the children have unsurprisingly taken their images from a very straight forward point of view and have documented siblings or other members of their family. The images aren’t perfectly exposed because they are after all children and are most likely to not have been taught this. However the images they have taken have a very interesting quality to the ideas of self portrait and an understanding of who they are. I particularly loved the image of the girl dressed up looking at the frog – very symbolic of the princess and the frog story and I feel as though the child photographer in this case has tried to create some kind of story or tell their audience.
The images aren’t created to be specifically beautiful or to showcase a perfect view of a home. They are shown to be how they are – living, working and functioning homes that support these children as they grow up to become members of society. Some of the children have very creative representations of their photography and their lives, often looking at new angles or creating camera blur on their images as well as cutting their subjects. I was pleasantly surprised to also find that a lot of the children were able to capture their families at moments that are often unseen by others, with smiles or doing general menial activities. It is nothing special, but at the same time, it is special because it is their lives and it’s about them.
I love how Hughes and Mendel have been able to work with the children on technical workshops to give them an understanding of photography and how they could possibly document their lives. I think making the project participatory in nature gave the children more freedom to not only take part in the project, but to choose what they thought was important to document or what was important to them. It gave them the opportunity to show the world what it is like to see the world though the eyes of 8-9 year old. It’s also given them an outlet to feel part of something bigger and create a giant piece of work that highlights who they are, as well as whom their classmates are, and what makes them individual.
I love the work and think it is fantastic that the children have been able to be involved. I think despite no extensive technical training in the art of photography, the photographs the children have produced are actually shot really well and to a good standard, with interesting compositions and a good eye for looking at their subjects and knowing when to capture them. They have got a clear documentary style about the images and they haven’t just gone for the most important parts of their evening – they’ve gone for the menial and the simple, as well as the everyday and the special. It’s so great to see lives documented in this way because it makes them so much more relatable.
I’ve found the project so insightful and it has given me a good understanding of some way of incorporating participatory photography, such as giving the children the project to undertake in the space of one evening. A simple task being set to just document in one evening that has produced so many different and varying results. It’s a fantastic example of how participatory photography can be fruitful and provide a great opportunity for expression and acceptance within wider communities because it gives greater understanding and is spread to a wide range of people, not just one persons opinion or way of seeing.