Look back over an era

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Here's Lookin' at You Kids!. Perth Museum and Art Gallery continuing throughout 2001.

Perth Museum and Art Gallery has drawn on its exceptional photographic archive for a fascinating exhibition about the lives of children in Perthshire from the 1880s to the 1980s.

The design of Here's Lookin' at You Kids! is very simple. Eighty black and white photographs have been chosen and grouped under six headings: Babies and toddlers, Children at school, Out of school, Clothes and hair, Healthy and safe and Children at work. About a dozen pictures are displayed in each group, showing how children's lives have changed over a 100-year period.

What makes this show different from other exhibitions of historic photographs is that new technology has been used to enhance the images. Computer enhancing of the photographs means that details which traditional wet printing techniques failed to bring out are revealed for the first time.

In a picture of the outside of a shop in 1880 you could previously see a child waiting at the door of the premises and goods on display in the windows. Now, thanks to computer software and the patience of Perth Museum staff, the photograph also shows a considerable amount of the interior, including people standing at the counter and goods stacked up on shelves at the back.

That sort of detail, plus back lighting, adds such depth to the photographs that you could almost imagine you were there too.

The museum's education officer, Barbara Hamilton, worked with several local primary schools on the exhibition, asking children to comment on all of the photographs they were planning to display. These comments, such as "It's a holiday and they're desperate to get out of that place!" about a picture of smiling girls bursting out of their school gates in 1949, appear alongside a brief but adequate description of each scene.

School children also painted the colourful wall panels, reminiscent of works by Alan Davie and Jackson Pollock, which provide an effective background for the prints.

All the photographs in the show are interesting if only to remind us how much life has changed. Among the most memorable images are those of a wee barefoot girl in 1880 carrying a bucket on her head, whose job was to pick up any bits of coal that fell from the cart she was trailing behind, and of three elephants, surrounded by children, standing on the banks of the River Tay in 1900. But some aspects are similar, as in the case of two children doing their homework in a typical 1950s sitting room.

Museum staff say children tire of looking at the photographs long before adults do. Fortunately, there are related activities to keep them occupied, such as dressing up in period costumes (including a 1940s-style pinnie) and playing with traditional toys.

Deedee Cuddihy

For further information, telephone 01738 632488

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