Flash of inspiration

11th March 2011 at 00:00
A class visit to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Queen's Cross Church provided the spark for this year's PhotoArch award, writes Julia Belgutay

I just felt like I was going to burst with good luck," says Samuel Eatough, seven, about hearing that a photograph he had taken of the Mackintosh Church at Queen's Cross, Glasgow, had won this year's PhotoArch award.

The photograph developed quite naturally when he visited the church with his class, he says. They were working on a submission for another competition, Determined to Make Movies, run by Glasgow City Council.

"I had a camera and there was a door, and it seemed like the right thing to do," explains the pupil from Ruchill Autism Unit. "I didn't know it was going to be entered into a competition and it would win, though. The door had an upside-down, heart-shaped window. The window acted like a mirror and the building was basically behind me."

His class, six boys aged seven to nine, took it in turns to take pictures with the school's three digital cameras as they were filming, directing and acting in their own movie, for which they dressed up as architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. They visited four Mackintosh buildings for the film, which won the Glasgow competition.

"I took a picture of the wall of Queen's Cross Church. I liked that church", says Jai. His classmate Andrew adds: "I took a picture of the lamps at Glasgow School of Art. I like the way that they hang down and I like Charles Rennie Mackintosh."

The children then reviewed a shortlist of their pictures and chose which to submit to PhotoArch. The images have now become part of an online gallery and will be exhibited at the Lighthouse in Glasgow from 15 March until the end of May.

PhotoArch is a photo competition on the built environment for schoolchildren throughout Scotland. It is run by the Scottish Civic Trust with Historic Scotland. Samuel's photograph beat 213 entries from 18 primary schools across Scotland.

Ruth Parsons, the chief executive of Historic Scotland, says it immediately stood out to the judging panel: "If I recall correctly, it was the only image shortlisted by all three judges," she says.

Samuel will now attend a prizegiving ceremony on 15 March, with the secondary winner, Sarah Cowie, 14, from Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, and other young photographers whose entries received commendations. Their pictures will be submitted as Scotland's contribution to the International Heritage Photographic Experience, supported by the Council of Europe.

Samuel's whole class will attend the ceremony to celebrate his success, says Catherine Norrie, principal teacher at the Ruchill unit. "I think it is fantastic, we are incredibly pleased," she says. "It started off being a project to get the children to work together. They really took to the photography aspect of it and they love Mackintosh and the buildings."

Taking photographs has come easily to the children, as it does not require the same motor skills as painting, she explains, but it still allows them to capture the composition of a scene.

The competition played to their strengths, allowing them to focus on small details. "A lot of our children focus on the small details. It can be challenging when you can't look at the bigger picture, but it also really brings out the best in the children. I think a lot of people would have just walked past that door," she says.

Samuel has shown a great interest in the symbols and organic shapes used by Mackintosh. "For a seven-year-old to notice and talk about that is amazing," she says.

But for Samuel, working with his classmates and engaging in the project was as much the reason behind his success as his photographic talent. "If it was not for this class, I would never have taken that picture," he told TESS.


The PhotoArch competition was piloted in 2004 and extended to pupils around Scotland in 2006. It gives them the opportunity to express their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on the built environment around them.

This year, for the first time, children from secondaries were also invited to take part, and the competition saw a significant rise in the number of entries.

In total, 32 schools from 16 local authorities submitted 318 photographs. Five were special schools, and the participants ranged from four to 18 years of age.

In all, 52 photographs were shortlisted by the Scottish Civic Trust, out of which came three winners, three highly commended and three commended.

John Pelan, director of the Scottish Civic Trust, says: "The PhotoArch competition is a great way to get children thinking about the places and spaces that surround them. We had many excellent entries from pupils of all ages that showed originality, inventiveness and an eye for detail."

Schools interested in taking part this year can contact the Scottish Civic Trust or visit the PhotoArch website www.photoarch.org.uk


Primary category

Winner: Samuel Eatough, seven, Ruchill Autism Unit, Glasgow.

Highly commended: Shannon Fitzpatrick, nine, Newtongrange Primary, Midlothian; Sanjay Vijayan, 11, Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen; Alexander Bohle, 10, Low Port Primary, West Lothian.

Commended: Rupert Eagers, 10, Low Port Primary, West Lothian; Katie Budge, 10, Hillhead Primary, Highland; Rachel McLellan, eight, St John the Baptist Primary, South Lanarkshire.

Secondary category

Winner: Sarah Cowie, 14, Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen (see left).

Highly commended: Christopher Whitelaw, 17, James Hamilton Academy, East Ayrshire; Ellen Jackson, 14, Strathaven Academy, South Lanarkshire; Kirsty Robb, 16, Grove Academy, Dundee.

Commended: Tammy McLaughlin, 16, James Hamilton Academy, East Ayrshire; Brogan Small, 16, Grove Academy, Dundee; Chloe Deuchars, 14, Braeview Academy, Dundee.


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