chapter  13
Picture This! Class Line-ups, Vernacular Portraits and Lasting Impressions of School: Claudia Mitchell and Sandra Weber
Pages 17

This chapter focuses on photographs, in this case school photographs, as both phenomenon and method. In so doing, it looks at the rich possibilities that school photographs offer for Image-based Research within work on professional identity in teacher education. Such possibilities range from considerations of the role of the 'outsider' photographer, to the resulting products and the memories of school that are evoked by such images, to using these memories to go beyond nostalgia so that the images can be used to inform and transform professional practice. 1


In the same text Kozloff goes on to observe that still portraiture 'is one cultural index of how people are schooled to regard themselves ... ' (our italics) (1994, p. 76). Kozloff's use of the term 'schooled' in relation to posing for a portrait is an interesting one since one of the most regularized and routinized practices in portraiture in many western countries is the taking of the school photograph. These 'vernacular portraits', as they might be called, being not unlike department store poses, as opposed to say the portraits of a Karsh or a Cartier-Bresson, are hardly 'high art'. If they are to have a public showing, this is less likely to be on the wall of an art gallery. Rather, often years after they were taken school photographs are often displayed - usually much to the embarrassment of the subject who is no longer a schoolgirl or schoolboy - on someone' s television set or piano. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the ordinariness of school

photographs there has been relatively little attention paid to them - either in the literature of domestic photography, or in the professional literature of schooling and teacher education. And yet, because these artefacts provide some of the most lasting impressions of school, we believe they deserve to be studied - as cultural phenomenon in an of themselves - particularly in relation to the fact that it is 'outsiders' - those outside the teaching profession, notably school photographers, who construct and maintain certain images of schooling. Indeed, in this regard they are not unlike the images of schooling constructed by Hollywood producers, television producers and directors in the various teacher movies and school-related television sit-coms that we explore elsewhere (Mitchell and Weber, 1995; Weber and Mitchell, 1995; Weber and Mitchell, 1996a, 1996b). Equally, however, school photographs merit investigation in the context of research on imagemaking and professional identity in teacher education. Indeed, as we note in our previous work on professional identity and the images of teachers in popular culture, the term 'image' is often taken to be synonymous with 'snapshot' visual memories (Eraut, 1985):

In this chapter we examine school photographs as indices of how people - teachers, in particular - have been 'schooled' to regard themselves in relation to school, focusing on the ways that the images contained within these photographs can serve as both method, particularly as prompts to memory, and as phenomenon. What influenced our investigation of school photographs as being both method and phenomenon was Jean Bach's documentary film on jazz musicians in New York: A Great Day in Harlem. The film is organized around a photograph that was taken for Esquire magazine in 1959 of a number of jazz musicians such as Dizzie Gillespie in New York who were invited to show up at a particular address in Harlem to be part of a group photo. Drawing from film footage of the taking of the photo, the film-makers of A Great Day in Harlem concentrate both on the 'taking of the picture' and the picture taken, so that more than thirty-five years later the subjects who are interviewed for the film are still talking about 'that day' - and those interview segments of the film are very much the kind of oral history, memorywork, memory-in-action that is something that we have been exploring in our work with teachers. While such events have been immortalized in country and western songs (as in the 'The class of 57 had its dreams'), and the snapshot is a widely used literary device, we began to ask ourselves questions about how the images contained within school photographs might contribute to Image-based Research: what happens when people, especially teachers, go back to their school photographs? What insights might we gain about teaching and schools by looking with teachers at the nature of class line-ups themselves?