The children from Tai Tamariki Kindergarten really enjoy visiting Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa! A favourite exhibition last season was New Zealand Photography Collected – one of the largest showing of photography collections here at Te Papa. The exhibition was based on the recent book of the same name, written by our Curator Photography, Athol McCredie.
This interest in photography has been followed at the Kindergarten, and Maisie Chilton Tressier, kaiako (teacher) at Tai Tamariki shares this story with us:
It must have been over a month ago now that we were visiting Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa upstairs, and I noticed that the tamariki were not only drawn to, but totally compelled by, a collection of black and white photographs, including some long-exposures that reminded them of “storms”. We take the ten oldest tamariki at our centre into the Mt Vic forest for half a day, once a fortnight, and so a few days after our trip to the galleries, I set a camera into “black and white mode” and asked the children to capture their own experiences of Ngahere tamariki – our forest group.
The photos that came out blew us all away, particularly those taken by River (aged 4). He seemed to have picked up on the focus on light and shadows that we saw in the photos upstairs, and that we can photograph the things that are important to us. River chose to capture his bag, and his friends. The photos were beyond beautiful; and River was beyond obsessed.
My husband kindly leant us an old unused DSLR camera, which puts out beautiful warm colours and is fairly small and easy to hold for a camera of that nature. I wanted our tamariki to know that we take their artwork seriously. Art isn’t about age or qualification, they can be just as much artists as those we see upstairs. This is the time to empower them. So, we tied on a pink ribbon as a shoulder strap for the camera, and suddenly I no longer needed to document teaching and learning – because River was not only doing it for me…he was doing it better!
River’s photographs of his peers catch the candid and un-posed looks that adults rarely get to see, from a perspective that we haven’t had since childhood. We literally get to see through the lens of a child. We put together a mini exhibit at Kindy of his work. He glued photographs onto black card, then named and commented on why he took each photograph saying things like “Penny is beautiful… if I say that Penny is beautiful she might play with me.” Then, after curating his exhibit, he proceeded to photograph his own exhibit too.
Soon, River started teaching his peers how to use the camera and we got to see what they valued and cared about through their photos too. The camera now gets passed from child to child throughout the day, as they take turns – and this needs virtually no adult guidance.
We took the camera on our next trip to Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa and the focus became gallery etiquette. What artwork can we photograph and which can’t we? How can we tell? How can we respect the artist?
Te Papa’s art educator, Laura Jones, came down to see River’s exhibit at Kindy and ‘hooked us up’ with a collection of very old cameras from upstairs. By this point we had a second photography exhibit up at Kindy – this one showcasing the works of our other young photographers also.
The old film cameras have been hugely fascinating to the tamariki and now several of our children can show you on each camera where the film goes in, how to wind the film and where the shutter is. Also, which cameras just need a film and which need batteries. We are trying to feed them real photography jargon. There is no reason why their understandings of the complexities of photography wont continue to develop from here on in a sophisticated manner. We are now in the process of trying to get some film to use at kindy as a way of establishing a foundation of knowledge of the science behind photography.
Recently, I observed River as he was teaching another of his peers about the ‘in’s and out’s’ of the old film cameras he looked up at me, and said “you will see me as a big boy when I have the camera”. After discussing this comment through with River, it seems to me that he has noticed that with the camera in hand he is more responsible, reliable, and “grown up”…and that adults treat him more-so this way.
The use of cameras at kindergarten have enriched learning and empowered the learners in more ways then we ever expected.
We have been so impressed by the work happening at Tai Tamariki – and it is clear that some really important learning has been happening for all involved. Thank you for sharing this story with us all Maisie!
On Friday, Athol, Laura and I were lucky enough to go and visit the exhibition at the Kindergarten together, and talk with River about his work. This was an amazing opportunity to discover more about the artist’s process and knowledge – and for River to meet our photography expert too.