Exhibition: The photographs of a lifetime

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Picturing Myself: an exhibition of work by young users of Barnado's services Discovery Museum, Newcastle Today - Jan 4

Giving children disposable cameras to record an instant image of their lives is an idea born of genius. As this exhibition shows, children have the ability to grasp what is meaningful in their lives without reverting to hyperbolic camera angles and lighting.

The exhibition has been launched to mark two events: UN Children's Rights Day (20 November), and Photo '98 - the year of photography and electronic imaging. Photography is close to being a permanent mirror on life, which is why early on in his mission to rescue destitute children in London's East End, Thomas Barnardo set up a photographic studio on site, intending to "obtain and retain an exact likeness" of every child admitted to his care. These were used as "before and after" photographs and put on sale to raise revenue and encourage donations.

This time young people are telling their own stories rather than mirroring the ways of the world in order to attract beneficiaries. "Barnardo's works with people who, traditionally, are either not represented or represented as stereotypes," says project coordinator Gill Fletcher.

In the foreword to the book on the exhibition David Bailey discusses the special universality of photography: "Photography does not require grammar, spelling and lessons, which gives people with a camera a great freedom of expression. It is about what you see. A camera is a tool I chose to express and record my life; the pictures in this book are an expression of what these children and young people are seeing and thinking. A document of their lives."

The photographs document lives that are also universally recognisable, regardless of the marginalised status of the participants - the exterior may be different, but the interior of hopes and interests is the same. Some are accompanied by poems, whilst others capture images from childhood. One picture of friends sitting on wooden benches at school has the caption "Me and my friends. We are all part of each other. We are very close to each other. We all love school. This is where we always sit," (Tapashi, age 15).

As Blake Morrison writes in the introduction to the exhibition, "Instead of an outsider looking in, with his prying or lying lens, here are insiders reaching out to tell us what their lives are really like".

Discovery Museum, 0191-232 6789

Jennifer Rodger

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