Enthusing Young Minds
The Project so far...
Taking the photographs,
learning to develop the negatives, learn and develop skills in photography, chemistry, math, literacy, patience, resilience, self awareness and being able to focus.
Using the photos taken in PHASE 1 to create Anthotypes. Developing an awareness of alternative processes to be more sustainable, eco friendly and cost effective. Additional skills learnt are, biology of plants and some basics of botany while further developing skills like patience and resilience.
The young artists now switch places with the teacher. The teacher becomes the student and the students become the teachers. Presenting their own initiated research, the young artists submit a brief for the project director to complete. They can then respond to the fulfilled brief with images of their own, forming a photo conversation.
Phase 4 saw the big "finale" of the project; the part we'd all been waiting for! The Caravan Darkroom came to fruition with the conversion of an old caravan into a mobile darkroom. The young artists were invited to once again take photos on vintage box brownies, develop their films using Caffenol, and finally print their photos in The Caravan Darkroom.
Aircraft by J.Doyle, aged 9.
BP, Saltend by I.Riley, aged 11.
If I could be anyone, by M.Doyle, aged 17
Describe yourself, by D.Welham, aged 16.
My favourite space by T.Keogh, aged 13.
My hero by C.Huntley, aged 15.
The Girl on the Swing by K.Handley, aged 15.
The Gnome by B.Battle, aged 12.
Leaf imprint into beetroot coated paper by Chris G Smith
Two Icons printed into bramble and buddleia coated paper by Megan Doyle (17yrs)
Enthusing Young Minds is a project aimed at Young Aspiring Artists (YAA), giving them the opportunity to experience photography in a way that they never have before; through the use of vintage cameras. The YAA, aged between 5 and 17, were each loaned vintage box cameras which they learnt to load with film.
As the YAA completed the below briefs, they learn how to develop their own negatives, providing them with a unique experience that they will likely remember for many years to come. The awe and excitement that each of the YAA showed when they saw the images on the negatives for the first time took me back to my first experience. It was from this point that I knew that this project was important and needed to be continued.
There are many skills and lessons that are being developed in the background of the project without the YAA really seeing what they're getting out of this participatory project. Firstly, they're learning photographic skills using analogue methods. These are a good foundation as these are skills that can be adapted to digital photography should they choose that path in the future. They learn more about their subjects and become more self aware in the process. They also learn some aspects of history, literacy (visual) and chemistry and math (photographic chemicals, how they work with each other and the process required for developing their negatives and the ratios of chemicals to water).
Further to the skills already mentioned, the YAA also start to develop life skills that are important but are being lost in today's instant gratification society. Patience and resilience.
Unlike with the use of digital cameras or mobile phones, they're unable to view their images immediately. They have to be patient and wait until the full roll of film is exposed and there is time to develop them. The YAA then also have to wait while the developing process is taking place as different films require different times within the developing tank and yet have to wait further for the negatives to dry.
The images on the 75+ year old cameras may not always turn out as well as they'd hope due to the primitive technology, unintentional camera movement (slower shutter speeds) and available light/film sensitivity (ISO/ASA). Yes some of the images on each film have been less than perfect but the resilience of the YAA kicked in and they were excited to try again and improve on their next turn!
1st Brief - Free Reign
In this brief, the Young Aspiring Artists were asked to photograph whatever they wanted. This was to give them some freedom and to allow them the opportunity to tell us, or show us a story or a part of their life that they deem significant - and the didn't disappoint!
Initially, this was deemed by some of my lecturers as quite a bold and potentially dangerous move for the project as I had no control over what would come back to me, and I agreed with them. I did however think this was exciting, not knowing how this would turn out, almost like Stephen Gill's work "Outside In" when he adds debris into his camera before he take his photos, also not knowing what the images will turn out like.
The level of insight that came from this brief allowed us, the viewers, the consumers of the images, a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the Young Aspiring Artists. Please check out the gallery page for Free Reign for a selection of the images taken.
2nd Brief - See Me
In this brief, the Young Aspiring Artists (YAA) were given eight questions to answer with the eight exposures that they get on the box brownie cameras that they were using. This brief was designed to encourage the YAA to slow down, think and consider what images they wanted to take, and think about how to take the desired pictures with certain constraints, such as available light, etc.
Some of the YAA did struggle with this to start with and needed a small amount of coaching to get their creative juices flowing. Once they realised that they could be as creative or as literal as they liked, they started to enjoy this brief too. It gave the YAA the opportunity to tell us about themselves, what they like and how they feel; it was all about them and how they see themselves.
Once again, the YAA surprised me in how creative they could be and how they see themselves, or how they want to be seen. One question asked "Who/ what would you be if you could be anything/ anyone?" and one answer in particular I found to be amazing. Meg, 17, answered that question with "I wouldn't want to be anybody but me. I am happy in my own body, I am who I am." What an amazing positive image for a young lady to put out there; an inspiration to others.
List of the questions:
1. Describe yourself
2. What is your perfect day?
3. What/who would you be if you could be anything/anyone?
4. What is your favourite hobby?
5. Show me your favourite space
6. What is your favourite childhood memory?
7. Who is your hero?
8. What is the first thing that made you smile today?
3rd Brief - Remember When
This brief asks the Young Aspiring Artists to regale a memory. One that you might share with friends or family, the kind which always start with "Do you remember when...?"
Remember When is designed to open their minds and learn to tell stories using pictures., The young artists have planned and executed their sequence of images increasing their visual literacy skills and learning that imagery is in fact a universal language.
There was still a lot of creative freedom for the young artists to enjoy with this task while still instilling some of more difficult skills. For example; this could be an actual memory or story from their past or it could be an entire work of fiction.
There was eight shots available for the young artists to utilise, they could use all shots for one memory, or split them into multiple memories. Once again, the resulting work produced was of an exceptional standard with the artists ranging from 12 to 17 years of age.
This allows the young artists to start finding their own voice and think about what they want to say to the world through their image making.
The artists were then asked to write, design and arrange their own stories for their double page spread in the third zine. Click the link below to see the full range of images. Or use the form at the bottom of the page to order yourself a copy of the Zines!
Phase 2 of Enthusing Young Minds focuses on alternative practices that allow the Young Aspiring Artists to print their images taken during the first phase of the project with the aim of being environmentally conscious and cost effective too. This is particularly important during the cost of living crisis, and the climate emergency that are have to be at the forefront of our developing practices to ensure that we reduce our negative impact on the environment, reduce our costs, while still enjoying the arts.
After researching some alternative processes to printing, I decided upon Anthotypes. This printing process uses plant matter, paper and sunlight and can be done with very little cost. Phase 2 of the project began with my own experiments to see what materials would work best and would be cheap to source. I found paintbrushes and old frames in charity shops and sourced beetroot and spinach from local shops. I picked leaves of trees and bushes and took paprika and turmeric from the spice rack to see which plant matter would work the best. The plant matter was cut into small pieces then mashed up with Isopropyl alcohol using a pestle and mortar. Once again, thinking economically and ecologically, a pestle and mortar does not require electricity. After straining the plant juices (emulsion) through a cloth, it was painted onto watercolour paper and left to dry in a darkened room. Finally a positive image was printed onto acetate then layered onto the coated paper and clipped in a frame and left out in the sunshine.
My first couple of attempts did not work but I persevered with it to finally produce some great results using beetroot, spinach, turmeric and paprika. The paprika was the quickest to print in the sun with it taking only a few hours, whereas the beetroot and spinach took in excess of a week to print. At this stage, I also learnt that I needed to find a better way to coat/ dry the papers as can been seen the leaf imprint into beetroot coated paper, there were large splodges that dried on the paper.
In the first workshop, there were three of the Young Aspiring Artist, Jack Doyle (9yrs), Megan Doyle (17yrs) and Izzy Riley (11yrs). They initially tried the paprika mixed with alcohol but soon started experimenting with plants from the garden. Meg produced a purple emulsion on her paper by mixing brambles, buddleia and isopropyl, Jack produced a vibrant green emulsion on his paper by mixing comfrey, daisy leaves and nettles with isopropyl and Izzy also created a purple emulsion by mixing holly hock, rose petals and isopropyl. These experiments were done by the Young Aspiring Artists which allowed them to become more excited by what they were trying.
The prints started working with the paprika being the quickest and the rest taking about a week to print but with some amazing results! It wasn't just the kids that were amazed by these results, the parents were to, comparing it to science and art classes from when they were at school.
In the second workshop, there were three more participants, Demi Welham (16yrs), Tom Keogh (13yrs) and Cardlin Huntley (16yrs). They each picked an ingredient to try with Demi picking the red cabbage, Cardlin choosing the paprika and Tom picking the beetroot. Between the three of them, they coated enough paper to take the extra sheets home with them to clamp in a frame once their first Anthotypes were completed. Each of the Young Aspiring Artists have expressed how much fun this process is and how they would like to continue to use the method going forward.
Meg even went as far as to recreate the workshop, putting her own spin on it for other children who are currently not participants within my project. The learner became the teacher.
Read more about anthotypes and other alternative processes HERE
Read an interview about Enthusing Young Minds by AlternativePhotography.com HERE
Phase 3 of Enthusing Young Minds introduces the Young Aspiring Artists (YAA) to research. The brief was developed to encourage the YAA look at photographers, artists or events that interest them. Based on their research, they were asked to write a brief for me, Chris G Smith to fulfil.
With the realisation that I, the project director, was becoming the student and they were becoming the teachers, sparked their interest, They were suddenly faced with a position of responsibility in this context, quite possibly for the first time ever.
Their research could be about anything they liked the first brief being delivered to me by Jack Doyle (aged 9). He'd done research on Hull Fair which was in town at the time. He surprised me with some of the facts that I previously did not know and in doing that Jack had immediately succeeded in this phase. Jack had asked me to photograph my favourite ride, thing (attraction) or memory of the fair.
Other briefs soon followed; some were loose which allowed me to interpret how I liked while others were more rigid and requesting specific styles. The production of images specific to each YAA was exhilarating. Although they weren't producing images themselves at this point, it gave a view into how they think and what interests them. This kind of information would be particularly useful to parents who struggle to connect with their kids as they progress into adolescence or school teachers who wish to engage with the youngsters by using subjects of interest to start a conversation.
Conversation; the next step in phase 3. Once the YAA were provided with the images that fulfilled their briefs, they were invited to respond to the images with images of their own. The majority chose this option and responded to me which began to form The Photographic Conversation.
This Phase caught the attention of the Head of Art at a local secondary school who was very keen to have her Year 11 GCSE class take part. But there was a catch; with 24 pupils in the class and only a week to complete all the briefs they'd sent, I was in dire need of some help. The oldest of the YAA I'd been working with up to this point was Megan who is also studying photography for her A-Levels. I offered her the opportunity to assist with this task which would provide her with a valuable experience and transferable skills.
Between the pair of us, we completed the briefs, ensuring each pupil received an image from us. They were then provided with disposable film cameras from the school to use during their half term break to respond to the images that we'd created for them.
We finally got to meet the class to discuss their images during the final day of the Enthusing Young Minds Exhibition in Hull City Centre. The pupils had responded well to the task and it was a real pleasure to see the engagement. For many of them, it was their first time using an analogue camera with the concept of not being able to immediately, see their images being completely alien to them. The comments made by many of them was that they were excited to see the images they'd taken while they waited for their images to be developed. One of the many life skills that this project aims to instil into our next generation of potential photographers.
The work produced was now needed to be displayed in a way that would do it justice. Because we already had three zines, we felt it would be repetitive to do this again. After a conversation with the participants, we decided to produce a newspaper. We looked through our local newspapers for inspiration on layouts, titles and how images and text can compliment each other...or indeed how the text can change the meaning of an image.
But why a newspaper? Newspapers were the first mass publication to use photography to illustrate their stories from c1890 initiating conversations. Although during this latest phase, we deviated from just using analogue techniques (due to time constraints) we decided that this kept with the feel of Enthusing Young Minds, with a tribute to the early days of photography while still producing a printed body of work that the YAA could keep and add to their own portfolios.
SEE CONVERSING THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY GALLERY
The Caravan Darkroom.
A series of photographic workshops designed specifically for young people was developed aiming to provide a valuable learning experience for the young artists, allowing them the opportunity to gain hitherto unavailable access to photography and to develop their creative skills. In sharing my knowledge and passion for darkroom photography, I was able provide young people with the opportunity to learn valuable skills which help to foster their creativity and self-expression. Using an old caravan, I created a mobile darkroom that can be taken to a variety of different locations. By reaching parts of the country not often provided by extra-curricular arts education, I hope to help by breaking down barriers of travel and cost for young people wishing to take part in the workshops.
A mobile darkroom can be a transformative tool. For many young people in deprived areas, it can offer them a multitude of benefits and skills. Firstly, it provides an accessible and affordable opportunity to engage with the art of photography. Having a darkroom on wheels eliminates the need for expensive equipment and studio space. It also makes it feasible for those with limited resources to participate. Furthermore, the process of developing film and printing photographs in a darkroom fosters a range of skills. Patience, attention to detail, and problem-solving all become crucial as they navigate the intricacies of film processing. The hands-on nature of working with chemicals and enlargers enhances their understanding of science and optics. Moreover, the art of composition and storytelling through visual imagery is honed, encouraging self-expression and critical thinking. By bringing a mobile darkroom to economically deprived areas, I hope to offer young people an opportunity to engage with photography and storytelling in an affordable and supported environment.
The mobile darkroom can serve as a catalyst for personal development and artistic expression but can also help with the acquisition of invaluable skills, paving the way for a brighter future for young people.
It was a two part journey to The Caravan Darkroom phase of the EYM project; part 1 being the creation of the mobile darkroom and my own journey, the challenges and how I grew as a result. The second part; The Caravan Darkroom in action within the community and collaboration with a local high school.
I travelled from Hull to Oxford to collect the caravan. I'd never towed anything in my life, so this was a new experience for me. After the drive back and after towing the caravan around Hull and East Yorkshire for the workshops, I feel extremely confident in my towing abilities.
The first part of the conversion was to fix any damage. One skylight was completely destroyed and the other wasn't far behind, these were both repaired as a priority. I ripped out the smelly old carpet and tried to lay some lino down instead, this went horribly wrong and I had also get rid of the lino. I eventually settled on self adhesive tiles which were much easier for an amateur to install. This was to make cleaning easier in case of any spillages.
Next up, I needed to plan where everything was going to go so I made a few designs and listed the pro's and con's of each before I finally decided which layout to go with on the inside.
I decided on a removable work top to ensure that the caravan could remain functional as accommodation if it was required. After creating a lightweight frame for the worktop with wooden batons, I topped it with a sheet of 9mm plywood then wrapped the entire worktop in a vinyl to make cleaning up any chemical spills easier. This is where we would be doing the "wet work."
I left the other side of the caravan seating alone. I felt having somewhere for the young artists and their guardians to sit during the inductions would be a great use of that space. I then used the wardrobe for the enlarger. For this, used some of the left over plywood to create a shelf for the enlarger, which left extra space underneath to house the CCTV monitoring station.
The blacking out of the windows took several attempts. I first used heavy duty window film and black duct tape. A few days later, this fell down and left me back at square one. After posting this to the projects Instagram account, I was advised that tinfoil on the windows is a good cheap alternative. This worked...briefly. holes kept appearing and I had to re-do the tin foil several times. in the end, I found some extremely light weight black out fabric and heavy duty Velcro. This solved the problem and plunged the caravan in to total darkness.
A couple of red safe lights were then fitted along with the safety signage. The only thing left to do at this point was to sort out the issue of the electrics. Initially, I'd purchased a 12v caravan leisure battery and solar panel, but on closer inspection, the 12v system and wiring was a complete mess and quite honestly it would have been unsafe to use. I tested the 24v electric hook up to the house mains and thankfully this worked. I sold the 12v leisure battery and the solar panel and created a Go Fund Me page to start trying to obtain a solar power bank which I could plug the hook up cable into. Success!
Finally, it was time to paint the exterior. I wanted it be be recognisable and to turn heads. I took photos of the exterior and photoshopped on the idea I'd had for the paint job to see how it might look in reality. I chose red for the roof, and top and bottom of the side panels with black for the middle of the side panels and the front and back of the caravan. I used the black strip on the sides of the caravan to add white squares, replicating the sprockets on 35mm film, which has become synonymous with analogue photography. The red and black paint scheme represents the only two colours you see in the darkroom whilst working.
I did a test printing session in The Caravan Darkroom and it worked a treat! The basic concept was proven and now all I needed to do was ensure I could still tow it out into the community. I left the village of Burstwick where I was living and set off on a little tour of the local area on what became The Caravan Darkroom's maiden voyage since the conversion. I passed through Thorngumbald, Keyingham, Ottringham and Sunk Island before heading back to put the finishing touched in.
"The process of converting an old caravan into the Caravan Darkroom has been a remarkable and fulfilling adventure. Despite its challenges, the journey has proved to be immensely rewarding. Not only have I had the opportunity to share my knowledge with others during the workshops, but I have also acquired invaluable skills throughout the creation of the darkroom itself.
In the realm of DIY projects, I have often struggled to achieve satisfactory results. However, this experience has been a transformative one, teaching me a multitude of skills within a short span of time. From carpentry to problem solving, I have expanded my repertoire and gained new knowledge. The act of turning my vision into a tangible reality has shown me that the value lies not only in the final product but also in my journey of transforming of the old caravan into a functional darkroom.
This journey has proven that the transformation extends far beyond the physical space. It has become a symbol of my own journey, reflecting the progress, resilience, personal growth and empowerment. " - Chris G Smith, The Caravan Darkroom Book
The participants were split into two different groups. There was the group of private individuals who took part in this project off their own back, and the 2nd group of participants was from a GCSE art class at Malet Lambert School in Hull.
Each person took part in 3 separate workshops.
The first workshop was an introduction to the camera, how to use it, how to load the film along with some do's and don'ts. They were also introduced to the brief and were asked to photograph either their hopes and dreams or photograph their message to the world. This was designed to get them to sit down and think about how they could capture these complex thoughts within images. As with earlier phases, this brief continued to challenge the participants and improve their visual literacy skills, but at the same time, get them to consider what they want for their future, and/or do they have a message that they would like the world to see?
This project echo's the work or both the great Wendy Ewald who is described as a pioneer in the field of collaborative photography and also The Sirkhane Darkroom who teaches analogue photography and darkroom techniques to young refugee children along the Southern Turkish boarder with Syria and Iraq. However, there is one fundamental difference; where Ewald and The Sirkhane Darkroom both start by showing the children images from other photographers and developing their "eye," I have deliberately not taken that route to ensure there is no influence either from myself or other photographers, helping to keep the participants work as original to them as possible. That doesn't mean to say they didn't go away and do some research on their own, I simply wanted to see what went on in their minds without the pressure of worrying that it might not conform to certain standards displayed by other photographers. The key was to enthuse them, I wanted them to enjoy what they were doing.
Once the participants had shot their roll of film, they were invited to the second workshop. They would learn how to develop their film, but not using the traditional chemistry; no! I feel it is important to also address the issues of the climate emergency by introducing sustainable measures within the practice, and this means passing on these measures in the workshops. I've learnt so much from The Sustainable Darkroom and alternative processes, some of which were discussed during the Anthotype workshops.
I showed the young participant the ingredients for a Caffenol recipe and how to mix it up themselves. We also replaced the Stop Bath with water, but the only chemical we couldn't get away from was the fixer. We used Ilfords Rapid Fix, but I have just found out that Zone Imaging have released a new eco-friendly fixer which I'm yet to try. Once the developing was done, all chemistry was mixed together and watered down some more before being used to water the plants that I will eventually go on the make home made developers with ensuring that none of the waste chemistry ended up in the sewers or water system.
This second workshop also helped to build further skills and learning for the young participants, with teachings of chemistry and biology whilst reinforcing good practice and sustainability.
Once each participant had a developed roll of film, we inspected and discussed their images using a light panel. They could then choose which images they wanted to print in the darkroom. This led us to the third workshop; The Caravan Darkroom.
In the newly converted Caravan Darkroom, we used and Intrepid Enlarger. This was one of the first lessons they'd learn in the darkroom after their initial induction. They were shown how it worked and how to project their images on to the easels/paper. Along with the "how to use the enlarger" lesson, they learnt about test strips and their importance before creating their first test strip.
After the test strips were done, the young participants were able to inspect their image and were able to decide for themselves, which segment they liked and how many seconds they wanted to expose their final image for. Each participant made great choices and all came away with prints to be proud of. For those that had a bit of extra time to spare, I was able to stand back and simply observe the young participants creating a second print, putting into practice the basic darkroom skills they'd just learnt. Some even learnt the basics of dodging and burning which isn't a lesson I typically teach in the first darkroom session, but the majority of the youngsters took to the darkroom really quickly and with so much enthusiasm. It was an absolute pleasure to see the looks on each of their faces as they saw their images appearing on the paper, right in front of their eyes.
After the workshops, a handful of the participants were asked for their thoughts. Several insisted that they would love to carry on darkroom work and analogue photography with some even purchasing their own cameras! Others, stated that they would like to continue photography now that they'd experienced it but through digital means for ease. Either way; any take up in the art of photography is a win. It provided me an outlet as a young person when I needed it and it is nice to be able to offer this back to the community.
If you have any ideas about a collaboration, please do send me a message.
Do you have an exhibition space? Would you like to exhibit this work?
I am also looking for funding in order to keep this project running for as long as possible; donations of funds, equipment, film, paper or chemistry would be highly appreciated.