Saturday, 26 April 2014

Snapshots, Twitter and tiny people

Photography teacher Jane Hewitt inspires her student to look at the world from a different perspective, putting the power of creation and creativity in their hands!

Allow me to introduce ‘Bert’ he’s only a couple of centimetres high but has such a story to tell!

Meet Bert!
He didn’t start out with a story, but simply as an inanimate prop for my GCSE Photography group who were trying to recreate images in the style of Slinkachu, a modern street artist based in London who creates tiny scenes using these ‘little people’ and then abandons them on the streets for people to find.

I began by trying to do some of these images myself – call me a coward if you like but when I’m trying something new or something that is outside of my comfort zone, I prefer to try in private away from 30 or so sceptical pairs of eyes!

I duly set up ‘Bert’ in the middle of my lawn and lay down to take my images (not sure what the neighbours thought!). He is so small it was easy to find a range of places for him – in the middle of a patch of clover, perched on the fence with a spider’s web behind him, in a puddle so you could see his reflection. You can see how small he is and the whole fun of these tiny people is to create ‘worlds’ for them.

In some lessons pupils used plasticine or scraps of card to create scenes, but I have seen images where sugar or custard powder was used for a beach scene. For just £2, I managed to buy an old metal traffic light, which was part of a discarded train set at a local antique store. Look around your kitchen … liquorice allsorts make a great climbing mountain, cups and saucers make seats, tea bags make backdrops – the only limit is your imagination. The book Microworlds, authored by Mark Valli & M Dessanay, gives some inspiring ideas.

Liquorice allsorts make a great climbing mountain
On showing these images to my KS4 students, they immediately started to talk about these tiny toys as people with a history – he had to have name – hence ‘Bert’ and it was sad that he had everything that he owned in the three colourful bags on his bench. They then couldn’t wait to examine the other people – I’ll just introduce you to ‘Gladys’ who is my own favourite! She has a shopping trolley full of objects – you have to study closely!

Meet Gladys!
She has a shopping trolley full of objects

The Photography students had to physically create the ‘worlds’ that these figures inhabit – but I have done this with a Year 7 class where they have created worlds with words and written their stories on Twitter. @TheHeadsOffice is a wonderful supporter of creativity and Julia Skinner, founder of the 100 Word Challenge, suggested that we could in fact use these as stimuli for our stories. Visit the website to see the weekly 100 Word Challenge for creative inspiration.

Combining a visual stimulus that pupils can control and manipulate, with a rigorous, but fun, written challenge can produce really imaginative results. Students were amazingly creative – below is an image of Bert in winter – set up in the classroom using a sherbet fountain and an old pinecone. 

Sherbet and pinecones put Bert in deepest winter!

The GCSE Photography students’ task was to research, design, record, manipulate (using Photoshop) and then analyse. The Year 7 pupils worked in pairs, to choose their little person and create their character and world. I ‘scaffolded’ this by agreeing the criteria – name, age, occupation, a secret they had and their best moment ...the possibilities are endless. To take this to the next level we began to link our people together – thinking about how peoples’ lives become interwoven. We joined pairs together and began to link stories – did they go to school together? Had they had an argument in the past? Taking it to the next level we created their village – using a flat sheet, masking tape and post it notes (thanks to the wonderful Dorothy Heathcote for that inspiration!). Who lived where, worked where, where did Bert meet Gladys? What do we need in our village?

So, where do I get these figures? Well they are model railway figures made by a company called Preiser – you can get them from Amazon or eBay (they start at £3.99). There is a huge range – I buy the finished ones but you can buy them unpainted and be even more creative! The size of the figures means that they are unsuitable for young pupils but older ones think they are ‘awesome’ (not my word!) and are happy to be creative. Take them outside and use natural backgrounds, create and draw your own world, find a world in a book and use that image as a background. Be warned – this is seriously addictive! 

The material in this blog post was taken from the article, 'Snapshots, Twitter and tiny people' by Jane Hewitt, published in Creative Teaching and Learning, volume 2.4.

An intrepid little person discovers the dangers of the school pond!

A guitar is used as a prop here

Coca Cola makes a great lake, as one student discovered
A little man takes cover

One student used sugar and lollipops to create a retro beach scene

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