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Through Our Lens: Growing up with COVID-19

Through Our Lens, a project and exhibition at Impressions Gallery, features poignant photographs created by young people during COVID-19.

Flowers preserved in ice and their reflections. Part of the Through Our Lens exhibition.
Flowers in Ice © Amilah Majid, aged 14/Impressions Gallery

Through Our Lens: Growing up with COVID-19 explores the experiences of the so-called ‘Covid generation’.

The pandemic has impacted lives across the globe, hindering opportunity, enforcing isolation and severing ties between communities.

News headlines reveal dangers to the elderly, frustrations of working from home and the struggles of keyworkers maintaining vital services.

But what of the teenagers and young people trying to find their way in this unprecedented time?

Through Our Lens is a project and exhibition featuring poignant photographs made by a group of diverse young people from the Bradford District during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A self portrait shows Harry curled up on a bedroom floor surrounded by papers.
Self Portrait © Harry Berry, aged 16/Impressions Gallery

Photography as a means of self expression

More than 100 young people have taken part in Through Our Lens, on show now at Impressions Gallery.

They have worked with award-winning artist Carolyn Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn quickly responded to the need for community, collaboration and skill development during the first national lockdown.

Initially mentoring via Zoom, she taught participants how to use photography as a tool to document their experiences.

The young group members began using art to help make sense of their changing worlds.

We are familiar with over-arching stories of school closures and resource shortages.

However, first-hand stories of young people’s pandemic experience have largely gone untold.

Yet the impact on children and young people is starting to become worryingly clear.

The NSPCC is reporting an increase of more than 60,000 counselling sessions via its telephone service Childline.

Mental health support providers detail an alarming increase in issues ranging from sleep deprivation to self harm.

Mendelsohn says it is vital to consider the lifelong impact COVID-19 is having on future generations.

“I didn’t feel that the voices of teenagers were being heard during lockdown despite the huge impact it was having on their lives,” she said.

“By chronicling their experiences, it has helped foster a sense of community among those taking part, provided a means of self-expression, built up their skills, and created an important historical record of this time.

“The original group of young people are now becoming mentors and supporting new members of Through Our Lens as the project develops and reaches out beyond the original ambition.”

Jay's self portrait shows a dark figure wrapped in lights. It is part of the Through Our Lens exhibition.
Self Portrait © Jay Kundu, aged 12/Impressions Gallery

‘We could all learn something from each other’

Through Our Lens features work by a core group of 12 to 20 year olds during the first national lockdown.

It also includes work produced by a sub-group of 6 to 11 year olds during the third national lockdown.

The exhibition presents compelling images documenting what life is like living with COVID-19.

The teenagers who took part represent a spectrum of socioeconomic groups.

They include including a number of refugees who moved to Bradford just months before the pandemic took hold.

The exhibition was curated in collaboration with the young artists who made the work.

It is a reflection on a period of adversity and a celebration of the resilience, dedication and spirit of young people.

Member Morgan Foord said: “The project has had a huge impact on me and how I grew as a person over lockdown.

“Not only did I learn photography skills, the project also helped me create some form of serenity and understanding as I was going through my GCSE exams.

“It felt like I had lost a lot of ‘growing up’ experiences due to the lockdown. The project gave me back that social aspect, seeing other young people dealing and coping through the same emotions was extremely comforting.

“Using the camera as a tool to express my voice and seeing people my age and younger being listened to was, and still is, something really necessary.

“I believe we could all learn a little something from each other.”

Morgan tries to convey a feeling of being trapped in this self portrait.
Self Portrait © Morgan Foord, aged 16/Impressions Gallery

Through Our Lens

Impressions Gallery director Anne McNeill said: “Reflecting back on almost two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Through Our Lens offers a vital window into how the next generation have adapted and grown through an incredibly challenging time.

“The photographs in the exhibition are some of the most thoughtful, perceptive and compelling photographic works to emerge from this period, demonstrating a skill beyond age and giving us an exciting insight into the next generation of photographers.”

Arts Council and England and the Bradford Council Response grant have supported Through Our Lens with funding.

As well as mentorship, it has been financially supported by Impressions Gallery since its inception.

The resulting exhibition is on at the gallery until March 26.

Spectrum Photographic is the print sponsor, producing C-Type matt prints mounted to foamboard.