Rivers of the World has been run by the Thames Festival since 2006, teaming up London schools with schools in cities around the world to learn about each other by exploring their local rivers. I worked for the project in 2018 when it expanded out of London for the first time and in 2019 returned to Worcester to run workshops at schools that were twinned with schools in Nairobi, Kenya.
This year I proposed using a camera obscura building workshop and for the pupils to use their hand-held cameras as viewing devices to find interesting and overlooked views in their school. The cameras were built from a simple template I designed using cardboard boxes, tracing paper and cheap plastic magnifying glasses.
To tie the workshop to their twin school in Kenya I asked the teachers to take lots of photos while on an exchange visit earlier in the year which I gave to the students as inspiration. I asked them to look for shapes patterns - triangles, circles, etc - rather than objects, and then photograph them with digital cameras.
I then documented the cameras they’d built and used all the matrials to produce a banner artwork which, at time of writing, will be exhibited on the bank of the Thames in London later this year.
Left to right: Nunnery Wood, Tudor Grange.
At Nunnery Wood High School I worked with students who were either doing photography as part of their Art programme or were in the photography club. I asked them to find shapes in their teacher’s photos and trace them onto the screens in their cameras, using them as guides to line-up their views of the school, before photographing them. I also worked with a smaller group who were interested in the digital processes (focus stacking) I was abusing for the final work.
The artwork was created by merging each student’s (or pair of students’) photos on top of a single photograph from Kenya and then montaging them into an abstract stained-glass window effect.
At Tudor Grange School I was working with students without an art or photography background which gave a very different dynamic to Nunnery Wood. I lowered the expectations a bit and concentrated mostly on making and decorating the cameras and looking for patterns that they’d found in the teacher’s photos.
Because the camera obscuras had been central to the workshop I build the final artwork around them, as a frame for merges of their images as integrating photos of their decorated cameras. I also included some photos of the kids looking through them.