Diaries and photos provide snapshot of young people’s lives in 2014

Suzanne Rose at the Mass Education exhibition, which includes photographs taken by children of their school communities, and their own diaries and observations (below).

Observations by children of their own lives and those of their peers form one of the major exhibitions in this year’s Brighton PhotoBiennial.

Mass Education, a project initiated by the University of Sussex’s Mass Observation Archive, involves hundreds of photographs and diaries by primary and secondary school children, and is on display at the University of Brighton café in Grand Parade, Brighton, from 4 October until 2 November.

From describing what they had for breakfast, to revealing their favourite pastimes and what they like to wear, the one-day diaries provide a snapshot of childhood in 2014.

Some of the 1300 photographs taken by the young participants – ‘selfies’ and ‘photo-bombing’ not allowed – capture everyday activities in the playground, on the sports field and in classrooms.

The children also issued directives to their school communities to solicit views on social media, the use of smart phones, school lessons, Marmite and who could identify individual members of The Beatles, with the results being displayed on infographic posters.

Suzanne Rose, Mass Observation Education and Outreach Officer, says: “The idea was to get the children being observers in the same way as the original Mass-Observation researchers of the 1930s, whose objective was to record the everyday lives of ordinary people.

“The children were given notebooks and disposable cameras and just had to capture what they saw. We have been working with more than 250 children and have had a hugely enthusiastic response.”

Participants at five schools in the south east, including Brighton’s Downs Junior School and Dorothy Stringer High School, took part in creative workshops at The Keep, which now houses the Mass Observation Archive, as well as providing material for the exhibition. The workshops were led by drama practitioner Rosanna Lowe and artist Rachel Henson.

The exhibition also includes photographers by a recent graduate of the University of Brighton, Grace Towner.

Suzanne says: “The exhibition is just part of the project, which continues until next April. We’re continuing to work with community groups in running workshops and sessions on how to handle archive material.

“And we've created outreach cases and resources for schools as well as guides for teachers and we even have a Mass Observation Bear called MO (named through a Twitter competition), who has been getting involved.”

The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All the outcomes and resources will eventually be housed on a new Mass Education website, which will be available to schools and community groups next year.


Notes for editors

University of Sussex Press Office:  Jacqui  Bealing and James Hakner, Email: press@sussex.ac.uk. Tel: 01273 678888

The Mass Observation Archive specialises in material about everyday life in Britain. It contains papers generated by the original Mass Observation social research organisation (1937 to early 1950s), and newer material collected continuously since 1981. The Archive is a charitable trust in the care of the University of Sussex. It is housed at The Keep as part of the University's Special Collections.

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 3 October 2014