My introduction to the book I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The book can be previewed here here on Blrub.com

Hockey

At the beginning of May I made my first visit to Scoil Bhríde, and met the class that I would be working with to produce this book. After possibly one of the quickest introductions to the idea of a photographic narrative ever given, their brief was to document the school building and to tell their personal story of their experience with the school. Their stories were to include even the no-go areas; something every school has and something every student body will not ignore.

As the weeks progressed, the pupils’ composition skills were tuned, and soon a rich narrative of school life began to form. It was impossible not to have these girls be part of this story; it was after all, their story. In three groups, they documented the corridors and gym, the classrooms, and the areas outside. Each of these spaces had some contribution to the girls’ social makeup over the eight years they had been taught at Scoil Bhríde. The school corridor, for example, is a sort of in-between place linking the classroom to the world outside, where the concepts of queuing and patience were introduced. The classroom, which dominates school life, is the place of learning, obedience and where respect is shown to both teachers and pupils. The yard and outside environment are locations where social skills such as co-operation, leadership and creativity are fostered.

The group of 27 students began this project with no photographic experience other than perhaps the snapshots that populate most family albums. After some compositional tips and suggestions for image improvement such as using flash and backlighting, they continued to make over 3,000 images that documented almost every inch of the school in two weeks. Like a fine-tuned military operation, no person or place was exempt, even the caretaker’s office.

From these, the photos were edited down to a small pile for each of the three groups. They carefully decided on what to include and, most importantly, what to exclude. They decided together how this book should be structured, from the title down to the school’s red and white colours of the opening page. Each pupil was asked to write a short story about a personal memory associated with the section of the school they were assigned to photograph. Selections of those stories are presented alongside the imagery in this book. To me, they tell a story that we all have of school, of being 12 and about to enter the second phase of our education. The stories capture something beautiful, uncensored, almost vulnerable, and celebrate the free spirit we each had as children; something often suppressed as we get older.

The principal, Dr Déirdre Kirwan, has written about the importance of this publication for pupils, historians and the school itself. I feel that its importance extends even beyond that: anyone picking up this book and flicking through it will inevitably be reminded of their own corridors, classroom and yards – their own stories.

For the authors of this book, it will forever be a testament to their creativity and free spirit. It will also no doubt be an enjoyable reminder of their final few weeks in May 2010, photographing the length and breadth of Scoil Bhríde. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each student who participated, who gave their full attention, enthusiasm and creative energy into producing this rich visual account of school life, and to wish them the very best on the next leg of their education.

These stories and photographs give us a rare gift – a universal account of school, which the girls of Scoil Bhríde invite us to revisit.

The book can be found online here.

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