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Harry, 16, is curled up among a pile of books and papers, in a self-portrait that’ll no doubt resonate with teenagers across the country trying to study at home.
“I wanted to convey the stressful feeling of having to learn by myself in isolation with the looming fear of A Level exams next year,” the year 12 student says. “It seems like my bedroom turned into my classroom before I knew it. A ‘work-life balance’ topples over when your life is put on hold.”
Harry’s photograph is just one of the striking images in ‘Through Our Lens’, a photo series captured by 12- to 18-year-olds to show their everyday lockdown experiences.
The project is being overseen by artist and photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn, who has three teenage children herself. She thinks their voices have been missing from public discourse during the pandemic.
“Their lives have been turned upside down,” she tells HuffPost UK. “All major exams cancelled, rites of passage like the prom, the school timetable, the ability to meet up with their friends and social groups. The structure of their lives has completely changed, and many are very isolated.
“I feel passionately that their story is a very important one, and should be made visible.”
Mendelsohn’s own work, including a major exhibition, was cancelled during lockdown, which she says was “a huge shock and a blow”. Instead, she launched this photo project with the help of Bradford City Council’s ‘Response’ fund – a grant being given to artists to find ways of responding to the situation.
She found teenagers to take part by creating a visual flyer that was shared with local schools and on social media.
After getting permission from parents, Mendelsohn hosted weekly Zoom sessions, teaching the teens who wanted to be involved the basics of photography. She covered key topics such as composition techniques, light and portraiture, but largely left the group to their own devices.
“I think it’s important to encourage them to use their own creativity when expressing their personal situation through photography,” she says. “They, in return, surprise me with their original ideas and ingenuity. It’s important to me that the work is truly theirs, and represents them.”
Mendelsohn believes the project has already had a beneficial impact because it’s helped the teens involved express themselves and boosted their wellbeing.
“I hope that people will be moved and want to see more,” she adds, “that the amazing ability of these young people to communicate their lives through their image leads to a greater understanding about teenagers’ extraordinary experiences at this time.”
When social distancing restrictions end, Mendelsohn’s dream is for the images to be exhibited in a public space to give recognition to the teens.
But for now, you can check out a selection of the images below or follow Through Our Lens on Instagram to see more.