Friday, 5 October 2018
School Projects continued
I wrote a post bemoaning the fact that there are so few 'authentic' school or college photography projects. I think by authentic I mean ones that look or feel like school or college look like. In the original post I've got Ivars Gravlejs' Early Works down as the most important and truthful school project of all time, so that tells you a bit about where I'm coming from.
Anyway, these are some of the projects that were suggested and there are some great ones in there
Florian van Roekel - le College
Megan Chloe Lovell
James Mollison Playgrounds
Mark Steinmetz - 'Detroit Schoolteachers
Inside Santa Monica High
Portraits of Hazleton Public Schools
These are all great projects and present very positive or nostalgic views of school - very empowering views.
But that doesn't correspond to the way most people experience school or talk about school - think of the great school movies, from If and Clueless and Lord of the Flies to Fame and even massively romanticised films like Mr Chips - they thrive on that dysfunction. I think back to when I was at school and everyone was either a psychopath, clinically depressed, abused, or a religious freak. It was genuinely and deeply shit. And I never see that view represented in photography. Some of the projects touch on those elements (click on Ian Macdonald to see the kid in detention) but there does seem to be a lot missing.
People have written about school, they've made films about it, or tv programmes about it, you get that representation in comics, but photography, no. And that's for school which nearly all of us have been to. There's an absence that is quite apparent.
As I said, some of the projects above are fantastic like Joseph Szabo's brilliant, brilliant portrait os his pupils. Or Florian van Reukel's Le College, which gets a poetic sense of what school is, but it's poetic and it's stylised and it doesn't match the nauseous scuzziness of it all.
Perhaps it's the politics of format and framing of photography, and the more suffocating ideas of collaboration, empowerment and consent that are so overwhelming that they have rendered anything more emotionally valid almost impossible. And I suppose for my conditions to be met, and they are entirely arbitrary conditions, then the project would have to be photographed by a schoolkid. Which is what Ivars Gravlejs was when he made the pictures for Early Works.
I would love to see more student-made education projects, both at a high school level and a university level - and Andrew Moisey's American Fraternity is a kind of side-example of this. It's a mystery why they're aren't any emotionally valid projects on studying at university. I've suggested it in the past and I suggest it again. I would love to see photography students do a project on being a student in contemporary Britain or anywhere, complete with pictures, emphemera, notes - from the student loan company, emails, texts, student feedback, university messages, room changes, doctor's notes, food bank parcels, blackboard pages, facebook group messages (that's the killer), notes from fellow students, assignments and all the rest. It's all really basic stuff, and it's fascinating but it doesn't get made. So if you're a student, why not make it, it would be fun. It would be hard. It might be nasty. But you could do it in your spare time. Go for it.