In April 2020 with all her work cancelled due to lockdown, Carolyn Mendelsohn set up a new project, Through Our Lens, (funded by a Response grant from Bradford Council) to enable isolated young people to tell their individual stories of lockdown though photography. This pilot project took place online on Zoom, where Carolyn ran workshops, master classes, set briefs and mentored each of the young participants. Many had never taken a photograph before, but all were familiar with their mobile devices.
Through Our Lens has over 100 young participants aged 6 – 21, who have come from the pilot project based in Bradford district. Through extensive and positive media attention (Huffington Post, BBC TV, The Correspondent, BBC News), and publicity in national and local press the project has had an audience of over 7 million.
The photographic work is curated on an Instagram page, and also has been exhibited in a district wide public art exhibition “Our Street Gallery.”, and in a major exhibition at Impressions Gallery in 2022.
In the short space of time the project has been seen by Arts Council England and curators internationally as an excellent model of practice, that has been truly engaging, and that has created some of the definitive images at this time.
Carolyn has spoken at national events about Through Our Lens and is working on developing the model to mentor and enable other people to facilitate their own Through Our Lens Projects. Carolyn was recently named as finalist for the National Lottery Awards in the Culture, Arts and Film category for her outstanding work with through Our Lens.
Satellite Projects include:
A project with children aged 6 – 11, fourteen online workshops enabling them to tell their story of this time. Phoebe Cookson and Holly Wade from the original group worked as mentors for Our World. The project culminated in the publication of a zine, and a public outdoor exhibition at Cartwright Hall, Bradford in August 2021.
Allstars Apprentices –Mentoring and workshops
A project working with young apprentices aged 16 – 23. Workshops and mentoring focused on the group using photography to create images for the young minds project.
The Science Museum
Working with National Science and Media Museum sharing best practice from the Through our Lens project and wider experience in youth engagement to develop skills and deepen staff understanding in this area, by running a series of training workshops and mentoring.
Sessions replicated the Through Our Lens model for NSMM and Science museum staff, creating an awareness of the Through the Lens project, its methodologies, best practise and processes, and involved an evaluation of the process and the practical opportunity for the staff to develop their own practice and to create greater links with Through Our lens, and providing an opportunity for the young people to be part of the establishment of a Young Peoples Forum.
Alys Tomlinson, Barry Lewis, Roy Mehta , Jack Lowe and Daniel Meadows, are patrons of Through Our Lens. Each has actively followed and supported the project from the beginning, both in sessions, on the Instagram page and to Carolyn personally.
Support and Partnerships
Through Our Lens has received recognition and support from Arts Council England, and has key cultural partners onboard for the next two years, including Impressions Gallery, the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford College, Bradford Museums and Galleries, Bradford Council – with a growing relationship with The Leap and Bradford 2025.
Impressions Gallery Director, Anne McNeill says, “Carolyn has used her skills to help isolated teens make their thoughts, feelings and experiences visible. She’s ignited a passion for photography in them that will grow going forward and has given us the photographers of the future.”
The Future and The Vision
The project will continue with workshops and mentoring, satellite projects, and training, exhibiting at a national gallery, artists talks, and the continued development of individuals involved. The work is being archived by Bradford Museums and Galleries and will be part of their special collections. Through our Lens will be developed and articulated as a model of excellent practice in arts and learning. Research and development will enable wider sharing of the work and dissemination of the model, with talks nationally, and meetings with potential partners.
The Vision is to create an educational platform, to support individuals and organisations to deliver a Through Our Lens style project with their groups. Designed with carefully crafted, engaging short lessons, exercises and mentoring, that provide guidance and a framework to facilitate a project.
Through Our Lens can still provide advice and tailored individual mentoring to a small number of organisations. We would love to be able to extend this model to other people. Since the beginning of the project, Carolyn has received many emails and requests from artists, photographers, educationalists, community workers, youth workers across the world (from New Zealand to South America) to ask if she could share her process, or work with their groups.
Carolyn has spent time talking and mentoring youth workers and photography practitioners to give them an insight into how the project has worked, and tailored guidance as to how to develop their own projects.
Due to time challenges and location, responding fully to every individual requests isn’t always practical. However the development of a platform that people can access would make this a possibility.
Members of the original Through Our Lens Covid 19 project are involved in and are consulted on the development of the project at all points.