LONDON – Steve McQueen has captured a snapshot of London society by photographing 76,146 children for one of the world’s most ambitious photography projects.
Every Year 3 pupil in the UK capital was invited to join a collective portrait for a show that launched on Monday at the Tate Britain.
The British filmmaker and artist returned to his hometown and, with the help of photographers from the Tate, captured third-grade students from 1,504 different schools in London.
“It is one of the most ambitious visual portraits of citizenship ever undertaken,” senior curator Clarrie Wallis said at the media preview.
“It is a very simple but ambitious idea that shows the power and fragility of potential,” she added.
The initiative, which has been brewing since McQueen first became a father more than 20 years ago has required almost three years of preparation, the expert said.
“This extraordinary project is the result of a huge collaborative effort, it is a truly visionary idea,” said Maria Balshaw, director of the Tate the art museums and galleries.
The project is a collaboration between the Tate, Artangel (a production company of site-specific art pieces) and the arts NGO A New Direction and supported by various foundations.
“We invited every Year 3 pupil in London, thinking not even half of the schools would want to participate. To our surprise, we were met with an astonishing participation.
“More than 70 percent of schools have participated, resulting in 3,128 class photographs,” Balshaw said.
The photographed children come from diverse environments, from public and private schools to faith and special needs centers.
“It touches themes like identity and community, very prevalent in McQueens previous works,” Wallis told the press.
McQueen’s proposal brings the public closer to a more personal candid side to his work.
Although his works have been exhibited in galleries around the world and he has directed five films, including the award-winning movie “12 Years a Slave” which took three Oscars, McQueen (b. 1969), as well as many of the children in the portraits, did not always enjoy the assurance of those closest to him.
There are several parallels with the artist’s personal life and the mammoth artwork.
He is dyslexic and was considered by his teachers as someone who would only be able to aspire to manual labor, the curator said.
This project also serves to remind the viewer that making a simplistic assessment of a child’s ability at any given time says nothing about the person’s true potential, she added.
“We wanted the children to be seen and to be proud of who they are, especially those coming from parts of London that often don’t get the chance to participate in culture,” said Steve Moffitt, chief executive officer at A New Direction.
“We can’t forget about the more than 6 thousand teachers and teaching assistants that also appear in these portraits. There is so much London schools should be proud of,” he added.
The exhibition, which is free and will be open to the public from November 12 until May 3, will also feature an outdoor exhibition.
The portraits will be distributed across several London locations including roads, railways and metro stations.
“It is estimated that almost 7 million people will see one of the 613 Year 3 billboards posted at roadsides, railways and underground stations. It is also having a huge repercussion in social media,” said James Lingwood, co-director of Artangel said.
“London has more than 300 languages, in Year 3 everyone speaks with a smile,” Lingwood concluded.