A year in St. Michaels on the Mount without.

Bristol Photo Festival has been collaborating with St.Michaels on the Mount primary school supporting their year long photography project with mentoring sessions which will be exhibited in September. We have also collaborated with Lua Ribeira, BPF exhibiting photographer, delivering a workshop with the pupils during the rehearsal of its end of the year play, Twelth Night, inspired by her current exhibition at the Bristol Museum & Art Galleries.

We can all agree that one of the places that suffered the most during this health crisis are schools, its teachers and pupils. The learning experience has been completely interrupted many times throughout last year, home-schooling became a reality, teachers and parents had to be imaginative about how to keep kids’ going.

On the 12th of November of 2020, a very special proposal came into our inbox:

Photograph taken by the St.Michaels on the Mount School pupils.

Which reads:

” We are pupils from the Year Six (Birch) class at St Michaels’s Primary School. Our school is full of pupils from different countries and different backgrounds. Since the first day of the school year we have been taking photographs of our class to document our last year of primary school. We already have many photographs!


We are writing to you because we would like to take part in the Bristol Photo Festival. In addition, it would be amazing if we could exhibit our images in Bristol. Perhaps you could help us with this? Sadly, we are unable to show you our pictures at the moment, hopefully you will really like them when you get to see them.”

Photograph taken by the St.Michaels on the Mount School pupils.
Photograph taken by Birch Class. 

The letter we received was the beginning of a very exciting relationship between Birch Class in their final year of primary school and the Photography Festival. Fortunately, the lifting of some COVID restrictions meant that we could finally visit the pupils and view  their images. We also met the class teacher Lauren Springett and the class teaching assistant Rob Browne whose idea it was to make a photographic record of the school year.  

Photograph taken by Birch Class. 
Photograph taken by Birch Class. 

Alejandro Acín, Engagement and Education Director, talks about this collaboration with Robert Browne.

AA: The first edition of the festival explores the themes around Sense of Place which have taken a completely new meaning after the pandemic came into our lives.  There have been many challenges for all of us during the various national lockdowns here in the UK, but primary schools have especially been a critical place. Could you tell us a little bit about these challenges?

RB: “The biggest challenge as a class is that we are in our own ‘bubble’; our ‘place’ is one classroom and a part of the school playground. Being confined to such a small place has at times been difficult/claustrophobic for all involved. We have certainly missed interacting with others in school and missed out on many trips outside of school. The numerous lockdowns have been detrimental to our pupil’s learning and for some it has had a negative effect on their social skills and mental health. “

Photograph taken by Birch Class. 

AA: Without a specific documentary aim, you proposed the students to use participatory photography during the various lockdowns. How did this idea come about? 

RB: “It was never intended for the project to be a historical document of a year 6 class in a primary school during a pandemic.  Our original aim was to build up a collection of images to remember our final year together and to share these images with the rest of the school (so that they would know what we were up to)”.

Photograph taken by Birch Class. 

AA: Your class has definitely been living through this important time but now these photographs will become a very poignant record too. What’s the emotional and historical value of them? How do you think these images will be perceived in 5o years time?

RB: “Yes, we have been living it, but many others have too. We have been lucky, COVID came for a couple of visits (staff and pupils) but no one was seriously ill. Education staff in Bristol have died from COVID. At this point in time, we are all emotionally involved in the project and have no idea if there is a historical value to the images. The images are of our friends, our pupils and our colleagues, people we care about. St Michael’s is sadly closing at the end of the school year, and I know that I will be looking back at these images in the years to come with happy memories. I would hope that the pupils will be doing the same. Perhaps it’s for others to decide whether the images have a historic value, it would be amazing if they did.”

Photograph by Birch Class pupil Niyati during Lua Ribeira’s workshop.
Photograph by Birch Class pupil Niyati during Lua Ribeira’s workshop

AA: During my research as an engagement and education director for the festival I have noticed the lack of visual literacy programmes in primary but also secondary schools. Considering we are living in a incrementally visual dominated world, where we all are producers and consumers of images from a very early age, how important is it for children to know about the role and function of photographs as a skill for life?

RB: “I do believe it is important that children understand the role of images in their lives. Why one image is used rather than another, why a certain image can produce a particular emotion.  Photography can be used to inspire and educate, but sadly it can also be used to manipulate and lie.”

© Lua Ribeira
© Lua Ribeira
© Lua Ribeira
© Lua Ribeira

Thanks Wex Photo & Video for providing a camera to deliver this workshop with Lua Ribeira. All the details regarding the upcoming exhibition in September at the Mount Without crypt will be announced soon in our social media and website. Keep your eyes peeled!