Stepping Up: The production process

The pictures on these web pages were taken by both the young people participating in the project, and by Richard Grassick, a photographer who is a member of the Amber/Side film and photography collective in Newcastle upon Tyne. They, and others, form a major part of the book of the project.

The philosophy behind the work was one of collaboration. All the participants in the summer workshops were given a 35mm camera with which to document their lives during the transition from primary to secondary school, whilst Richard photographed some of the key events during that period. Workshop sessions involved training in both traditional chemical darkroom techniques, processing film and printing contact sheets, and digital methods for individual printing of images, scanning negatives, manipulating in Adobe Photoshop, and outputting on an ink jet printer.

In the process of assembling the material for a wider audience, it became apparent that the young people had a strong sense of image as metaphor. When they looked at a photograph of someone crossing a bridge, for example, they would imbue the picture with great significance describing, for example, their own passage from primary to secondary school - and now they were safely on the "other side" they could look back and see more clearly where they had come from and how difficult or easy the journey had been. This process of revelation and reflection gave the young people and the artists new insights. It became easier to agree common themes, to identify powerful symbols, to isolate significant moments and explore them further.

The stories in the book were compiled by writer Julie Ward towards the end of the project. They were based on her observations of and involvement in the transition process over the period of a year. Key scenes in the narratives were drawn directly from the children's own writing or from classroom drama sessions led by Julie during the introductory period of the project. In writing the two stories Julie tried to retain the original feelings articulated to her by the young people whilst at the same time fleshing out the narratives to produce complete stories which could be understood and enjoyed by other young people approaching the end of primary school. Drafts of both stories were discussed and changed by the Editorial Group who spent long hours discussing the meaning and usage of particular words and phrases. The aim was always to represent the world of the young people concerned as they themselves experience it, rather than from an adult perspective.

Together, the editorial group and Richard and Julie worked on the layout and design of the book, drawing on all of the work produced previously. The discussion at this stage revolved around the various ways in which the pictures might be used - with or without text, alone on a page or surrounded by the stories, large or small. In the end, it was recognised that the picture stories were quite distinct from the written ones, and that it was not appropriate to think of them simply in terms of illustration. As a result of these discussions, a first draft of the book was substantially re-designed, as decisions about how the pictures worked best on a page were agreed.

The challenge of producing a book was always going to be a great one for the group. As artists, it was our task to enable their voices to be heard as effectively and authentically as possible. This always meant striking a balance between letting the members of the group express themselves, and offering skills and support where these were needed. We hope that we have found the right balance in the book.

Richard Grassick & Julie Ward
June 1998

I took copies of the text and photographs and produced these web pages from them. I have tried to give you a flavour of the book, but there is more in the book, and the layout of these web pages cannot reflect the layout of the book which the editorial group, Richard and Julie spent so long to perfect. Also, there is matter on these pages, particularly the Making the move sequence (which was taken from a slide show) which is not in the book.

Roger Cornwell
August 1998