Identity(s) & Roots

Collège Charles Senard, Caluire-et-Cuire, France
Resident artist: Justine Verneret

The workshop took place at the Charles Senard secondary school in Caluire-et-Cuire every Thursday for one hour and lasted three months. The group was composed of twelve students from the 6th and 5th grades, and four students from the Unité Pédagogique d’Intégration – young adolescents with disabilities such as autism.

The photographer discussed with the young students the theme “Identity(s) & Roots” through the practice of self-portraiture and portrait photography.
In pursuing the goal of regaining a rewarding self-image, the artistic medium-tool becomes an enriching ally for the pupils, a sort of double of themselves.

Searching for their truth, their own point of view through technical notions such as framing, colours, the right balance of volumes, conceiving forms, space and motifs in the frame, facilitate the search for meaning.

As an artist-intervenor but also as a mediator, the photographer must be vigilant and delicate when dealing with such sensitive subjects as the portrait and the self-portrait.

Dealing with children or teenagers who are in the process of building their own identity, with questions about aesthetic and affect or psychology, which touch on being, appearing, intimacy, the way we look at ourselves and at others, remains an extremely difficult task. Sometimes, this can position the mediator on slippery ground.

The challenge is therefore to find the right distance, to maintain respect, between the mediator and the student-participant.

« To create an image of one’s own world, both the everyday world and the inner world. In this respect, photography is an opportunity. »

Alain Kerlan, La photographie comme lien social (Photography as social connection). Collection « Pôle photo » 2008. P. 18

« Who am I? Who do I see in the mirror today? How do others see me? Who will I see in the mirror tomorrow? Who will I become? »

Quote from a 6th grader

The camera lens hides, protects, resists and creates a mediation despite itself, but it also ensures a transition, a distance, a thread to better grasp the real or its unreality, to approach, recognise, touch and perhaps better understand the other, ourselves and the world.

Photography seems to me to be a very appropriate medium for today’s youth, in search of meaning and identity. The personal appropriation of the practice sometimes generates a self-confidence through an action, “a power to act”. The act of photographing then becomes the delicate transmission of an inner message, creating the possibility of telling one’s story in a different way: “a power to tell”.

Within the school space, which has become a place of mediation and creation, the photography workshop has brought people together, created new friendships between peers, which otherwise might not have existed so naturally. The programme has rebuilt a new way of living together, with reinvented codes, with its own system of relations, within the school itself.

This workshop was a privileged means of developing expression, image awareness and socialisation; the pupils were thus able to re-evaluate an imperfect and unfinished self-image, and to develop a motivation to create and to learn the art of photography.

This adventure also led to an exhibition and a publication of a collection of the students’ photographic productions.

The extension of the photographic work leading to the organization of an exhibition is fundamental in the recognition process. It is a way of anchoring the narrative that the pupils have produced through the photographic act, in the social space.

Alain Kerlan wrote on this subject:

« Photography and its exhibition are thus at the crossroads between the basic capacities that every human being attributes to himself, and the interpellation of the other, the recourse to other, the only one capable of granting a dimension to this personal certainty, a social status. As Paul Ricoeur points out, the common challenge for the two poles of this duality, is personal identity. »

Alain Kerlan, La photographie comme lien social (Photography as social connection). Collection « Pôle photo » 2008. P. 18