Resource background

This resource is a collaboration with Autograph ABP and draws on Autograph's unique photographic collection. It aims to engage students with conversations around race, representation, photography and visual literacy, and support teachers to teach diverse curricula effectively and confidently.

The activities included in the resource were developed from co-development sessions that Autograph organised with artists and teachers.

Collectively the artists explored how photographs from Autograph's collection could be used to respond to issues facing young people in the education system today. These activities were then trialled and tested in partnering schools.

Co-development session with artist Ella Phillips

Co-development session with artist Ella Phillips

This resource was developed with artists Daniel Regan and Ella Phillips in partnership with Eastbrook School, Halley House School, Randal Cremer Primary School, Riverely Primary, Stoke Newington School and Thomas Tallis School, with support from Art UK and Art Fund.

Using this resource

In the classroom

Before you start, create an environment that nurtures collective listening and curiosity. 

Autograph workshop in a classroom

Autograph workshop in a classroom

  • How is your classroom laid out? Ensure that students can see each other and work in small groups easily. Try moving tables together or sitting students in small circles.
  • Interrogate the teacher-student dynamic. Be transparent with students that questions might arise in the session that you as the teacher are unsure how to answer. Sometimes questions can lead to more questions and that is ok. This approach should encourage students to investigate the conversation further after the session. Whilst doing the making activities, refer to the students as artists – your role is to support their creativity.
  • Give permission to make mistakes. For students to feel empowered to explore and develop their storytelling skills, make it clear that these activities are a space where to be right or wrong is subjective. Reinforce that much can be gained through trusting the process.

Activities

The resource is arranged into four sections. The activities in the first three sections can be selected and adapted depending on your curriculum and classroom setup.

Top tip: For effective delivery of the resource, we recommend that you pick something from each section.

  1. Warm-up making activities
  2. Exploring curiosity and gut instinct
  3. Reading photographs: fact vs fiction
  4. Discover the stories behind the photographs

Warm up making activities

Begin the session with a playful, practical activity that gets students moving and doing – and 'in the zone' for thinking creatively.

These activities will encourage students to focus on the process rather than being only concerned with the final outcome. Choose one or two activities that you feel would work best with your students.

Compose and make a photograph

Time: 5–15 minutes (you may need to allow more time depending on the age and ability of your class)
Materials: A3 black and white card, foil, feather, scraps of fabric, leaves, stickers, chalk, random small objects, magazines, maps, scissors, glue, tape, cameras
Working: independently

1. Lay out a range of materials and objects at the front of the class alongside sheets of A3 black and white card. The materials and objects can be completely random but need to be able to fit on the card.

Activity materials

Activity materials

2. The students have 5 minutes to use the objects to create a composition to photograph. They are allowed to select up to 3 materials and either a black or white piece of card as the backdrop.

Composing materials for a photograph

Composing materials for a photograph

3. After 5 minutes is up, get each student to photograph what they have created.

A photograph of arranged objects

A photograph of arranged objects

 

Speedy portrait drawing and looking closely

Time: 10–15 minutes
Materials: A4 paper, pencils, clipboards or something to lean on
Working: in pairs

Organise students into pairs. They should be facing one another with a plain piece of paper and a pencil each.

1. Continuous drawing

For the first portrait, allow students 2 minutes to draw their partner.

  • They must look at their partner the whole time and are not allowed to look down at the paper.
  • The pencil must be touching the paper for the entirety of the time they are drawing.
  • After 2 minutes the students can reveal their drawings to their partners.
  • Allow a moment for them to compare and contrast.

Two-minute continuous portrait drawing

Two-minute continuous portrait drawing

2. Slower response drawing

Ask students to turn their paper over and work on the back of their continuous drawing. This time, students will have 4 minutes to draw their partner.

  • They must look at their partner the whole time and are not allowed to look down at the paper.
  • They are allowed to take their pencil off the paper this time.
  • This response is aiming for more detail and closer observation.

Exchange drawings. Get each drawer to sign the portrait and gift it to their sitter.

Four-minute, slower response portrait drawing

Four-minute, slower response portrait drawing

 

Describe what you see

Time: 10–15 minutes
Materials: A4 paper, pencils, blindfolds, 2 x photographs from Autograph's collection, projector
Working: in pairs

1. Organise the students into pairs. One student will be the describer and the other will be the drawer. The drawer should be blindfolded and have a piece of plain paper and a pencil.

2. Display a photograph from Autograph's collection on the screen and ask the describer student to describe it. Use the photograph below or choose another one from the collection.

3. The describer has 3 minutes to explain what they see to the drawer. Encourage the describer to think about the different elements of the photograph including the depth, composition, texture, shapes and mood of the photograph. It might help to ask them to consider:

  • what section of the photograph will you choose to start with?
  • what are the main elements and leading lines of the photograph?

 4. After 3 minutes the drawers can put their pencils down and remove the blindfolds. In pairs or as a class discuss the following questions:

  • As the drawer, do you feel your partner gave an accurate description of the photograph? What did the describer do well? What could they have been better at? Are there any elements of the photograph that are missing in the drawing?
  • As the describer, what were you first drawn to describing? Why do you think that is?

 5. Now ask each pair to swap their roles. The describer becomes the drawer with the blindfold, paper and pencil and the drawer becomes the describer.

 6. Display another photograph from the Autograph's collection on the screen and give the pairs another 3 minutes to describe and draw the photograph. Use the photograph below or choose another one from the collection.

 7. After 3 minutes the drawers can put down their pencils and remove their blindfolds. In pairs or as a class discuss:

  • why do you think it is important to spend time looking at a photograph?
  • did you prefer being the describer or the drawer?

 

Make a zine

Time: 10 minutes
Materials: A3 paper, scissors
Working: independently

1. Give each student a piece of A3 paper. The zines are most effective with black paper but any will do.

2. Ask students to fold the paper in half horizontally and vertically so a cross is created when folded back out.

Fold the paper horizontally and then vertically

Fold the paper horizontally and then vertically

3. With the paper in landscape (horizontal) orientation, get the students to make another two folds, folding each side inwards to meet the middle of the page. When it is folded back out there will be eight rectangles created.

Fold again with the paper in horizontal format

Fold again with the paper in horizontal format

4. Now, the students need to cut down the centre two lines of the paper so a slit is made.

Cut the centre two lines to make a slit

Cut the centre two lines to make a slit

The simplest way to do this is to fold the paper in half and cut down the centre line from the folded edge.

Fold and cut the paper

Fold and cut the paper

5. This is the fiddliest bit. Make sure your students begin with the paper fully folded back out to full A3. Fold the paper in half, with the cut at the top.

Paper folded with the cut at the top

Paper folded with the cut at the top

Holding on to both edges, push the cut open into a diamond shape.

Push paper make a diamond shape

Push paper make a diamond shape

Then fold the zine in on itself ...

Fold the zine in to create pages

Fold the zine in to create pages

... and flatten to make a book shape.

Flatten to make a book shape

Flatten to make a book shape

The zine can now be used for activities further along in the resource.

 

Cropping a photograph

Time: 15 minutes
Materials: printouts of Autograph's archive collection, scissors, paper, glue, optional: the zine they have made

1. Lay out photographs from Autograph's collection onto a table and invite students to pick a photograph that they are drawn to. (A selection of photographs is included in the carousel below, but you could also choose your own.)

Selection of photographs from Autograph's collection

Selection of photographs from Autograph's collection

2. Once everyone has selected a photograph, ask students to look at the photograph consistently for 1 minute.

Nothing to Lose I

Nothing to Lose I 1989

Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955–1989)

Autograph

3. After the minute is up, instruct the class to crop the photograph using scissors to create a new image. The way they do this is entirely up to them.

4. They could stick the new version onto the front page of their zine, or a piece of paper. 

A cropped photograph

A cropped photograph

Explore curiosity and gut instinct

A central objective of this resource is to develop a deeper sense of curiosity through drawing on gut instinct.

The activities below encourage students to think about and define what being curious and having gut instinct means, and then test out these notions through listening to sounds and looking at photographs from Autograph's collection.

Class discussion: What does it mean to be curious?

Time: 10 minutes
Materials: no materials are needed
Working: as a class

As a class, discuss:

  • What does it mean to be curious?
  • What can we learn from it?
  • Why is it good to be curious?
  • Is being curious ever a bad thing?

Explain that to be curious is to have a desire to find something new. In the context of this resource, it could also be about being open to hearing other people's opinions and engaging in positive debate.

Class activity: What is gut instinct?

Time: 10 minutes
Materials: post-it notes, pencils
Working: independently

  • Ask the class 'What does gut instinct mean to you?'
  • Ask students to write down their answers on a Post-it note.
  • Stick their responses on a board at the front of the class and then read out, or ask a student to read out, the responses.

Explain that gut instinct is the wisdom based on our life experiences and memories since the moment we start existing that we cannot necessarily recall. Today we are going to foster that prior knowledge and experience to fill the gaps in the photographs we will look at. Everyone has an inner wisdom to draw on.

  • Now ask the class, 'Can using gut instinct ever be a bad thing?'

Explain that sometimes our initial reaction needs to be interrogated because it could lead to stereotyping people incorrectly. This is called unconscious bias.

 

Student activity: Responding to sound

Time: 15–20 minutes
Materials: audio soundbites, speakers, pencils, paper or zines
Working: independently and in pairs

Below is a list of different sounds that connect to photographs in Autograph's collection. Invite students to respond to sounds using their gut instinct.

1. Select 5 soundbites from the list above.

If you are working with specific photographs from Autograph's collection, try and choose sounds that feel most relevant to those photographs. (We have included an artist's name with each soundbite to provide a suggestion for photographs you could explore, but feel free to match a soundbite with an alternative photograph.)

2. Play each sound for 30 seconds.

3. Ask students to write down three words that come into their mind whilst listening to the sounds.

Encourage students to think about:

  • How does the sound make you feel? (Physical: heart rate, breathing, muscles, skin).
  • What does it make you think of? (Psychological: memories, likes/dislikes, hopes/fears).
  • How does the sound relate to your life? (Political: how might the sounds relate to backgrounds, beliefs, culture).

If the class made zines in section 2, they could write down their response to each sound on a page of the zine.

4. Turn off the lights and get the students to close their eyes so that their hearing is heightened.

Students listening to sounds with their eyes closed

Students listening to sounds with their eyes closed

Top tip: This activity is most effective when the sound fills the whole room. If possible, connect the device to built-in speakers for an immersive experience. Be sure to keep the computer screen hidden so the title of the sound is not revealed to the class.

 5. After the students have written down their responses to each sound, invite them to compare and contrast these with the person next to them.

 6. Repeat for each soundbite but ensure they discuss their responses with a different student by getting them to move around the room.

 

Student activity: How does this photograph make you feel?

Time: 10 minutes
Materials: A4 printouts of photographs from Autograph's collection OR projector to display photographs on screen, pencils, paper
Working: independently

This activity uses A4 printouts of photographs from the collection. If printing the photographs is not possible, the activity can also be delivered as a whole class using a projector, looking at one photograph together.

1. Lay out a selection of photographs from Autograph's collection on a table and invite the class to individually pick a photograph that they are drawn to.

Printouts of photographs from Autograph's collection

Printouts of photographs from Autograph's collection



2. Ask students to write down how the photograph they have chosen makes them feel.

Get them to think about:

  • How does it make you feel? (Physical: heart rate, breathing, muscles, skin).
  • What does it make you think of? (Psychological: memories, likes/ dislikes, hopes/fears).
  • How does it relate to your life? (Political: how might the images relate to backgrounds, beliefs, culture).

Student responding to a photograph

Student responding to a photograph

3. Now ask each student to swap photographs with another person on their table and write down how that photograph makes them feel.

4. After they have written down responses for two photographs, get them to compare and contrast their notes with the other students.

They could discuss:

  • How is your response similar to your partner and how does it differ?
  • Why do you think you have responded that way?
  • What have you learnt about your partner through this process?

5. Come back together as a whole class and invite students to share what they discussed with the group. Highlight how one photograph can be interpreted very differently depending on who is looking at it.

Reading photographs: fact vs fiction

In this section of the resource, students are invited to look more closely and analyse photographs to discover what they can tell us.

Use photographs from the selection in the carousel below for these activities, or choose your own photographs from Autograph's collection.

Class discussion: analysing photographs and what they tell us

Time: 10 minutes
Materials: projector, a photograph from Autograph's collection (selection below)
Working: as a class

1. Choose one photograph from the carousel above and display it on the projector.

Top tip: try turning out the light to focus attention on the photograph.

2. Ask the class:

  • what do we know to be a fact about this image?
  • remind students that the facts must not be assumed and should be a literal description of what is in the frame.

 

Student activity: analysing photographs facts vs. fiction

Time: 15 minutes
Materials: a photograph from Autograph's collection, pencil, paper
Working: independently

Now that students have explored the possible facts and fiction in a photograph as a group, task them with doing the same activity working independently. Print out a selection of photographs from Autograph's collection for students to choose from. (If you don't have access to a printer you could select a photograph and display this on a screen.)

1. Invite students to choose a photograph from the selection (or to look at the photograph on the screen).

From the Series 'The Black House'

From the Series 'The Black House' 1973–1976

Colin Jones (1936–2021)

Autograph

2. Ask students to make two columns on their paper and to write 'fact' at the top of one column and 'fiction' at the top of the other.

3. Get them to look closely at their photograph and to write down the things that they might know for certain and things they assume.

Analysing a photograph, fact vs fiction

Analysing a photograph, fact vs fiction

4. After 10 minutes invite two or three students to read out their findings. Ask the class: do they agree with their facts or do they need to be interrogated?

 

Student activity: write a story inspired by a photograph

Time: 20 minutes
Materials: a photograph from Autograph's collection, pencil, paper
Working: independently

Using the findings from the 'analysing photographs' exercise, ask students to create a story about their photograph.

These nudge questions might help to get them started:

  • where are the people from?
  • what is their relationship with one another?
  • where do they live?
  • what does their fashion tell us?
  • how old are they?
  • what year is it?
  • what kind of cultural community might they belong to?

A story written by a student in response to a photograph

A story written by a student in response to a photograph

Discover the stories behind the photographs

Discover the stories behind the photographs you have explored in this resource. Use the links below to visit the artists' pages on Art UK, find out more about the artists and explore their work.

Aida Silvestri

Aida Silvestri (b. Eritrea) is a visual artist who creates mixed media artworks that challenge the status quo of stigma, prejudice and social injustice highlighting issues of race, class, identity and health. Her practice is multi-layered and often combines text, images and experimental techniques to manipulate the photographic surface.

Anthony Lam

Anthony Lam (b. Hong Kong) is a photographic artist whose work addresses themes of identity, culture and place. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lam worked with the Bangladeshi community in East London, first as a youth worker and then as a photographer.

Armet Francis 

Armet Francis (b. Jamaica) is best known for his social documentary, advertising and fashion photography. Throughout his career, his mission has been to document the African diaspora capturing the essence of black identity all over the world.

Bandele 'Tex' Ajetunmobi

Bandele 'Tex' Ajetunmobi (b. Nigeria) was a self-taught photographer who stowed away on a boat to Britain from Lagos, Nigeria in 1947. After settling in East London, he began recording the daily lives of his friends and acquaintances, on the streets and in the pubs, shops and clubs. His photographs are an important historical document of life in the East End of London.

From the Series 'East End Portraits'

From the Series 'East End Portraits' 1950–1980

Bandele 'Tex' Ajetunmobi (1921–1994)

Autograph

Colin Jones

Colin Jones (b. England) was a ballet dancer turned documentary photographer and photojournalist. He is best known for his series of photographs taken in a hostel in Islington, London from 1973 to 1976. The hostel known as 'The Black House' was a government-funded local community initiative which provided support and housing for young Black people.

From the Series 'The Black House'

From the Series 'The Black House' 1973–1976

Colin Jones (1936–2021)

Autograph

Dinu Li

Dinu Li (b. Hong Kong) is an artist working with photography, moving image, sculpture and performance. Through his work, he explores themes of culture and migration. His portrait series Press The * then Say Hello from 2006 depicts people in high street internet phone shops in Manchester making phone calls to their family and friends abroad.

Ingrid Pollard 

Ingrid Pollard (b. Guyana) is a photographer whose work looks at themes of history, landscape and environment, race and aspects of Britishness. Pollard is interested in interrogating the histories of photography and uses a wide range of techniques in her work including photography and alternative photographic processes, printmaking, text, video and audio. In her series The Valentine Days from 2017, Pollard hand-tinted large prints of postcards of Jamaica from the 1890s.

Jeannette Ehlers 

Jeannette Ehlers (b. Denmark) addresses themes of memory, race and colonialism in her work. Experimental in nature, her practice uses photography, video, installation, sculpture and performance. In her series of photographs, We're Magic. We're Real (From Sunset to Sunrise), made between 2021 and 2022, Ehlers examines hair as an important marker of Pan-African identity and connectedness. 

Joy Gregory

Joy Gregory (b. England) is a photographer whose work looks at social and political issues, through references to history and cultural differences in contemporary society. She is celebrated for her work on self-identity and engages with ideas around blackness, femininity and beauty. In her series of nine self-portraits, Joy Gregory depicts fragments of her upper body, face and hands, playfully moving in and out of the frame.

From the Series 'Autoportrait'

From the Series 'Autoportrait' 1989–1990

Joy Gregory (b.1959)

Autograph

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte (b. Mexico) uses new technologies to highlight racial equality and ecological justice. Exploring ideas around climate, indigenous knowledge and western botany systems, her series Digital Clouds Don't Carry Rain is set amongst the dying trees of Derbyshire – the home of the Industrial Revolution.

From the Series 'Digital Clouds Don't Carry Rain'

From the Series 'Digital Clouds Don't Carry Rain' 2021

Mónica Alcázar-Duarte (b.1977)

Autograph

Mónica de Miranda

Mónica de Miranda (b. Portugal) is a visual artist, photographer and filmmaker. In her work, she contemplates the complex experiences of Afrodiasporic lives and Europe's colonial past. Using fact and fiction, her photographic series The Island explores a long trajectory of Black presence in Portugal by bringing together intertwined narratives – drawing on African liberation movements, migratory experiences, and identity formations through a Black feminist lens.

Silvia Rosi

Silvia Rosi (b. Italy) works with photography, text and moving image to explore ideas of memory, migration and diaspora. Her series Neither Could Exist Alone, responds to the wider contexts of the COVID-19 pandemic and was created during the global lockdown in 2020. Using photography and film, the work explores ideas of isolation and the sense of fear that manifested through the continued lack of human interactions during the pandemic.

Syd Shelton

Syd Shelton (b. England) is best known for documenting Rock Against Racism (RAR). Between 1976 and 1981, the RAR movement confronted racist ideology in the streets, parks and town halls of Britain. It was formed by a collective of musicians and political activists to fight racism and fascism through music. Under the slogan 'Love Music, Hate Racism', it showcased reggae and punk bands on the same stage, attracting large multicultural audiences.


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