Photographer Marysa Dowling worked with year ten students from Bexhill High School, and Hillcrest School, Hastings. Together they investigated young people’s complex relationships with each other and the wider world, at a time when media representation is considered a powerful tool that manipulates image and perception, as demonstrated through many of the Biennial exhibitions.
BPB 2008 has been the springboard for this project, which has included visits to Biennial exhibitions including Why Mister Why? and Baghdad Calling by Geert Van Kesteren at Lighthouse, and The Sublime Image of Destruction at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. However, the groups have made the theme and content of the project very much their own.
The students began by looking at photographs by artists who work with portraiture and the tableau format including Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, Roger Ballen, and Phili Kwame Apagye as well as Marysa’s own work. They then analysed images sourced from various forms of media including newspapers and the internet, which related to how young people are represented by the media. The students looked at negative press, and images that critique media representation, then made a series of experimental digital portraits of each other that enabled them to think more widely about how they feel they are viewed by their families, communities and society in general, drawing comparisons between this and the realities of their own lives and feelings.
Following this, in small groups, students created storyboards to further develop their ideas and compositions. They worked out how to scale up designs, and incorporate themselves into the photograph, and considered how pose, clothes, text and props could finalise their ideas.
The storyboards evolved into final plans for photographic images that consider stereotypes and conflict within the students’ own environments of school, home and locality. Considering positive and negative points of view enabled students to make decisions about making an image that questioned or opposed common views presented by the media.
An important aspect of the project has been promoting awareness and understanding of careers in the visual arts. Marysa is a University of Brighton graduate, and the project has been funded by Aimhigher, an organisation that aims to widen participation in higher education by raising aspirations and developing the abilities of young people.
Funded by Aim Higher.