Its march and this month’s book is a documentation of the fascinating lives of a community that encourages freedom of expression, creativity and imagination. It’s Harlemvillie and it’s by Clare Richardson.
At first glance this book is laid out in three main different sections to me. The first stage shows teenage boys acting like our ancestors. They’re shown hunting, digging and hiding in the forestry and rivers. I find the group ones of them crowed round together, particularly compelling as they all look older then they should do, and also it’s a sight, as a modern day adult, we don’t see around us. The second stage of this book is the boys in modern day clothing. Here my feelings towards the imagery and the sitters changes, I don’t know what it is, but to me they look more like outlaws or young offenders. The boys are covered in scratches and tend to look like they’re up to no good. Maybe it’s because of the switch to them being in the clothes we would wear, whereas before they wear only in shorts and perhaps looked more like they belonged there. To me, I can see frustration, boredom, loneliness and anger. The final stage shows young girls being very innocent compared to the boys. They are photographed picking flowers; being in a large group together and, most fascinating to me, huddled together with whom I thought was there mother. It’s a completely different feel to the boys.
However, at the end Richardson gives a small extract of this body of work, and everything becomes very clear. Richardson spends time with the Harlemvillie families as there children are part of a scheme that lets them choose what they want rather then what we might have experienced, a prescribed taught education. As a child I loved the idea of not having to go to school as I thought I would get to do really fun things and everything would be exciting and I would never miss school again, but that way of thinking is obviously a fantasy, and this photo book proves that children want to learn, and show a need to learn, even without a school, ‘As I sat they would approach me, with an object that they had found, questioning what it was and how it came to be’. It is more of a record of documentation than anything else.
This photo book is more than ascetically pleasing; it makes the viewer question there own lifestyle and the way we live as a society. Is it wrong that as children we grow up a lot faster then we perhaps should? Would it be better for us to learn and explore our land and what we want too rather then academic subjects in school that perhaps we aren’t interested in or we are stronger at more hands-on teaching? What ever our beliefs are, this book is successful as it forces our mind to think about the comparison of two different lifestyles.
As you read more into this body of work, you begin to look at this imagery in a different way. The young boys covered in thick mud could be interpreted as them being the outcasts of society, hidden away, just because they don’t go along the ‘normal’ contemporary route. I also look at the portraits of the children in a different way too. The last one is the most touching and can be seen in various ways. The girl is inside in darkness, and this can resemble the restriction she feels when she can’t be outside and learn, and the land is her escapism. On the other hand she could feel the warmth and security of being inside and wanting to further herself in the way that we go through. It’s really interesting when you see the different interpretations that can be seen once researching into Richards’s concept.
All of the pages within the book are set out in the same minimalistic way, a white background with the image at a large size on the right hand side of the book. After reading about this I found it unusual that she picked such a uniform way of presenting the work, but as I think about it, just because our way of life is so constant and consistent doesn’t mean that there lives aren’t too.
If you’re interested in seeing different lifestyles, a mixed bunch of portraits and further thinking, then this is the photo book for you!