Looking into the Family Album

What Happened

Three groups of students at both PACA and BACA investigated the theme of the Family Album with artists Alex Buckley, Marysa Dowling and James Casey.

On 5 December 2013 the students visited the Photoworks Family Politics exhibition at the Jerwood Space, London with the artists to prepare for the project.

James and Alex’s Groups
Alex and James worked with groups of year 10 and 6th form students at BACA to learn about animation techniques. James and Alex took over the students’ weekly art lessons, and began by exploring different animation techniques and styles with them. They allowed the students to experiment with in-camera production techniques, and then worked with them to assemble their trial animations afterwards. The students then built their final animation projects, with the students applying what they learnt to the theme of ‘looking into the family album’. They created their own animations using a family photo, or a series of photos that they curated and explored. The work formed part of their GCSE Art & Design course work.

Marysa’s Group
Photographer Marysa worked with students and teachers at PACA to consider portraiture, encouraging the group to become confident both in front of and behind the camera. The project began with a look at various forms of photography that relate to the central theme of the family album, students brought in and discussed their own family photographs as well as anonymous images. They used DSLR and compact digital cameras to shoot simple portraits within the school, then printed and reviewed the images before reshooting to improve on their original images. They took it in turns to direct and be directed as the photographer and subject.

Following this, inspired by artists such as Thomas Demand and Jan Van Holleben, the students made giant backdrops, costumes and props to create their own fantasy family portraits. The three lead artists Marysa Dowling, James Casey and Alex Buckley worked together with teachers, facilitators and cultural organisations to devise workshop plans, which they delivered both in lesson time, and off timetable.

This collaborative planning process enabled the team to share ideas and pool their areas of expertise. The project included informative and structured days out, inviting students to share their ideas and offer space for others to participate. The project explored the different roles photography plays in family life and how stories can be shared and passed down.

The artists and students together looked at archives and at their own family albums before constructing large tableaux sets and backdrops, that reference the family situations we all record, such as family gatherings like parties and weddings, whilst others looked at fears and dreams. The students worked in groups and took on various roles including infront of or behind the camera-directing, making or acting. They worked collaboratively to plan, make and shoot the final works.

Ten of the final pieces of work were enlarged and presented on giant lightboxes, which were exhibited for the month long Brighton Photo Biennial in October 2014. Over 58,000 people visited the outdoor exhibition, raising the profile of the students work to an international level.

The students gained their Silver Arts Award through participating in the project.

One of the lightbox images was selected to form part of Engage’s national touring Generation Art: Young artists on Tour exhibition in 2015, which comprised of 40 artworks from over 200 young artists, and including an eclectic mix of pieces, from painting and ceramics, to film and photography.