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Me, myself, eye

Primary children prove to be natural photographers reports Jane Norrie from a new exhibition

The first national exhibition of primary school photography has just opened at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath. For those who cringe at the thought of a succession of "my pet" snaps, the preview proved both an eye-opener and an inspiration. Ranging from black and white landscapes to glossy light box portraits, the work is high quality, diverse and imaginative.

Curated by Fiona Bailey of the Photographers' Gallery in London, items for the exhibition were selected from a series of workshops involving primary schools and professional photographers. From Donaldson's College for the Deaf in Edinburgh to Ysgol Baladeulyn in Wales, over 20 schools are represented with the exhibited photographs making up only a small cross-section of the total work produced.

All the exhibits take the children as their starting point, hence the exhibition's title The Amazing Me. As well as recording external aspects of the youngsters' lives such as homes, families and friends, special possessions and secret places the show also explores their hopes and fears, imagined and fantasy lives. For this reason alone it is likely to appeal to young audiences.

For teachers, however, the prime interest of the show may lie in its focus on photography as a versatile educational tool. In some schools the emphasis was on photography as a practical activity. The majority, however, used the exercise to build up self-confidence resulting in a clutch of colourful portraits and self-portraits. Set against self-selected backgrounds, in montages and collages, sometimes dressed up, or dramatising favourite "props", the children appear in a variety of real and fantasy situations and in the process have learned the significance of pose and gesture, of composition and camera angle and last, but not least, the way images can be manipulated.

Another approach was to use photography to support other curriculum areas. One Bristol school, for example, used the project to enhance a term topic on small creatures. The children took photos of themselves then scanned them into a computer along with a selection of found images. The resulting manipulated images are magic surreal and vibrant pictures of children's heads sprouting from outsize bees and snails.

In Nottingham photography was used as part of a long-term multi-media project to explore older children's attitudes to their impending transfer to the local comprehensive. Vivid but discomfiting, the selected work captures the children involved in role play about the issue of bullying. Finally a special school brought together a photographer and poet resulting in an audio sculpture telling the story of Captain Crumble and the Magic Apple and incorporating prints of its authors on latex.

Classroom teachers who are not themselves photographic aficionados need not feel inhibited. Some of the most interesting pictures of fish piled high in markets and of playground scenes were taken in Brixton by 10-year-olds using Polaroids.

The Amazing Me is at the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, until March 23. Twilight session February 5. Information from Fiona Bailey on 0171 831 1772. Picture My World: Photography in Primary Education by one of the project leaders, Kamina Walton, is available for Pounds 9.95 from the RPS bookshop or from Trentham Books, Westview House, 734 London Road, Oakhill, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs ST4 5NP

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