Around 30 students took part in the Thinking Differently project run by the Autograph gallery in Shoreditch, which encourages young people to think differently about social issues that affect their lives.
Professional photographer Alejandra Carles Tolra asked them to reveal ‘what is below the surface’ when creating their images, which have been exhibited on the gallery’s website.
Each student produced a body of research to develop their photographs idea. This included creating mind maps to help them connect aspects of identity from race, gender and religion to experiences from their upbringing, interests, culture and aspirations.
Their final works included self-portraiture expressing experiences and emotional states, still life images using symbolism to create narratives about themselves and documentary photographs capturing family and the life of the community.
Yusuf Uddin, 17, created a striking image of a blurred-out face covered in scars and gold markings, which was inspired by his Muslim faith.
He said: “When I was child, I was not allowed to draw faces because in Islam it is seen as a sin to idolise people and figures. I added the cuts to the face to humanise it, and the gold because it is big part of south Asian culture.
“I really enjoy photography and being able to manipulate images and change their meaning. The project had a really broad brief and so I was able to get more into a creative zone and express myself while exploring different aspects of people and their cultures.”
The project began during lockdown in April with students taking part in online sessions with Alejandra and joining in online talks about Autograph’s collection of works by artists including Rotimi Fani Kayode, Zanele Muholi, Mahtab Hussain and Omar Victor Diop.
As lockdown restrictions lifted the students were able to participate in workshops at the college and work more collaboratively to set up photoshoots in studios and outdoor spaces.
Alejandra gave a first-hand account of the life of a professional photographer, shared her tips with students on documentary photography and gave an insight into creative and sensitive ways of representing communities.
Ali Eisa, Learning and Participation Manager at Autograph, said: “We have a history of working with teachers and schools to share the ways in which visual representation intersects with issues of race, identity and human rights, and how students can make profound commentary on these questions using the camera and their creative minds.”
Visual Arts teacher Jan Evans said: “The Autograph project provided the first opportunity for students to collaborate in the classroom after a tough start to the year often working alone from home. It was great to see them sharing ideas and working together as a team in the workshops led by Ali and Alejandra.
“I am incredibly proud of their work. Their individual response to the project brief were mature, fun and thoughtful and its wonderful their work has been shared with a wider audience.”
“Projects like this are just one of the ways we’ve been exploring to decolonise and enrich our curriculum to reflect the diversity of students at CANDI. We were delighted to work with Ali and the Autograph gallery and hope to do so again next year.”