The ever-curious Brain Pickings yesterday shed light on a fascinating project, “Classroom Portraits.” Since 2004, photographer Julian Germain has captured images of classrooms the world over, progressing from his small corner of North East England to include schools from North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Collected in a new book, Germain’s photos provide unique insight into childhoods both familiar and foreign, sharing what makes schoolkids around the globe so similar, yet worlds apart.
England, Bradford, Year 7, Art
Each photograph captures the same faces we’ve all seen in the classroom growing up: you have the bored and the enrapt, the angry and the apathetic, the eager and the daydreamers. Germain captures all of these and more in his trans-global portraits.
Wales, Felindre, Reception and Years 1 & 2, Numeracy
Yet, just as these photos begin to hark back to one’s own school days, you come across a classroom like the one snapped in Yemen, below. A small room packed with serious-looking men, the only thing belying their young age the dark but faint peach fuzz atop each one’s upper lip.
Yemen, Sanaa, Secondary Year 2, English
Flipping past the slightly militaristic uniforms of a class of Peruvian 4th-graders…
Peru, Cusco, Primary Grade 4, Mathematics
to a colorfully Havanan classroom…
Havana, Cuba, Year 2, Mathematics
and a stark Nigerian one…
Nigeria, Kano, Ooron Dutse, Senior Islamic Secondary Level 2, Social Studies
you are reminded that this (I’m presuming for most of you) is not the childhood you remember.
But while the environments and languages might not be the same, it’s always easy to spot some common ground: in one image a band of sulky pubescents, in another a mob of sticky-fingered kindergartners, and in all the compulsory child with the mischievous glint in his eye, the one who is certainly up to no good at all.
England, Seaham, Reception and Year 1, Structured Play
In each photo Germain has also managed to evoke the gang-like quality found in a room full of students. He positions them with their eyes locked on the camera, staring it down as though ready to pounce at any given moment. Perhaps the one similarity we should be mindful of in every classroom is the courage it takes to stand up in front of a room of these creatures and teach them.
Cuba, Havana, Playa, Year 9, national television screening of film ‘Can Gamba’ (about Cuban participation in Angolan Revolution)
No, in all seriousness “Classroom Portraits” is a joyful reminder of the many fresh young minds out there in the world, and the importance a good education serves in shaping every one of them.
Lagos, Nigeria. Basic 7 / Junior Secondary Level 1, Mathematics
For more on the project, you can visit Germain’s website or purchase his book Classroom Portraits 2004-2012 on Amazon.