You are on page 1of 15

This article was downloaded by:[de Castro, Helena Ribeiro]

[de Castro, Helena Ribeiro]

On: 27 March 2007
Access Details: [subscription number 772449745]
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954
Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

History of Education
Journal of the History of Education Society
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:
The School Photograph: Portraiture and the Art of
Assembling the Body of the Schoolchild
To cite this Article: , 'The School Photograph: Portraiture and the Art of Assembling
the Body of the Schoolchild', History of Education, 36:2, 213 - 226
xxxx:journal To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/00467600601171450

Full terms and conditions of use:

This article maybe used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction,
re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly

The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be
complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be
independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,
demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or
arising out of the use of this material.

Taylor and Francis 2007

History of Education,
Vol. 36, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 213226
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

The School Photograph: Portraiture

and the Art of Assembling the Body of
the Schoolchild
Catherine Burke and Helena Ribeiro de Castro
County, Mexico, 12/1941. National (US) Archives at College Park. 14
Ltd New(online)

This article explores the possible uses of school photographs for developing new histories of education. Two
different types of school photographs are discussed with particular relevance to the significance of the repre-
sentation of the body of the schoolchild. The authors consider how the school photograph, produced within
the school for internal private purposes and/or for external community consumption, has acted as a signifi-
cant means by which school was performed and through which boundaries between the public or institu-
tional world of school and private world of the home and community could be traversed. Photographic
albums from the mid-twentieth century of two schools in Portugal are explored within an analytical frame-
work that considers how such sources develop new understandings of how local traditions intersect with tran-
snational cultural norms. The idealized arrangement of the body of the schoolchild is never more clearly
demonstrated than in school photography and the authors trace this tradition to the origins of images of the
schoolchild found in popular public iconography dating from the late nineteenth century.

Figure 1. Taos County, New Mexico, 12/1941. National (US) Archives at College Park.1

ISSN 0046-760X (print)/ISSN 1464-5130 (online)/07/02021314

2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/00467600601171450
214 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro

Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

The school photograph is a ubiquitous marker of schooling. It is so universal and

familiar that it can be easily overlooked and its value for historians of education
underestimated. Taking up the theme of this special issue, we will discuss how the
embodied child captured in school photography can offer new insights in theorizing
the space between school and surrounding community involving the internal and
external discourses that shaped school. The interface between school and commu-
nity, the maintenance of which has been crucial to the persistence of school as a
modern institution, will be illuminated.2 The making of school photographs and the
histories of their preservation will be our starting points and we will demonstrate the
potential value for historians in utilizing this rich informal and formal visual
resource with regard to the particular role photographs have played in performing
The school photograph positions and frames the body of the schoolchild, sometimes
alone and sometimes in relation to others. This is at once a technical, artistic, profes-
sional and cultural process. There is evident ritual, regularity and recurrence in the
process of production and, once made, the photograph takes on a powerful role in
representing identity, awarding status and reassuring the viewer of order and custom-
ariness. A powerful symbol of modern schooling, the school photograph, once taken,
is assembled in school albums held by institutions and families as valuable material
histories of school the world over. Such public and private collections are archaeolog-
ical in characteristic and can be theorized as stratified performers of school. Hence, a
single school photograph makes little sense and appears to demand that it be
connected to past and future semblances of itself. The group photographtypically
a class photographexists essentially in relation to others of its kind. It represents the
present but, owing to its familiar and ritualized form, demands from the viewer an
appreciation of what it resembles in the past and an expectation of its repeated form
in the future. In this sense, the group photograph performs school and acts as a stabi-
lizing force which speaks of change but assures of continuity and as Wim Wenders
has argued:

Taos County, New Mexico, 127/1941. Teachers cooperate with itinerant photographer at
Questa school. Photographer makes rounds of schools, takes pictures of children in rapid succes-
sion, sells small prints three for 15 cents, six for 25 cents. When the finished pictures are received
at the school some days later, the problem is theirs of matching the picture to the subject, not always
an easy task. National (US) Archives at College Park. National US Archives II (College Park,
MD)NAIL Control Number: NWDNS-83-G-41641. Local Identifier: NWDNS-83-G-41641.
With thanks to Eric Margolis for the reference to this image.
The social construction of a division between public and private spaces has been subject to cri-
tique by feminist theorists such as Vickery, A. A Historiographical Review: Golden Age to Separate
Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Womens History. Historical Jour-
nal 36 (1993): 38341. Such social constructions have underpinned the history of relationships be-
tween school and home, between institutional and domestic spaces.
History of Education 215

the most political decision you make is where you direct peoples eyes. In other words,
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

what you show people, day in and day out, is political. And the most politically indoc-
trinating thing you can do to a human being is to show her, every day, that there can be
no change.3

Like the group or class photograph, the school portrait of the individual child or
siblings attending the same school is again ubiquitous. Without a school portrait, a
modern childhood, at least as an aspiration, is in a sense incomplete. Yet, until now,
historians of education have overlooked this emblem of the schoolchild, and its very
omnipresence and familiarity has acted to erase its apparent value. The school
portrait performs school in the family, is sited in the home and is stratified through
time as the represented body of the schoolchild grows and develops while the framing
is consistent with the ritualized and expected arrangement of the body in uniform
and/or in relation to certain objects and backdrops.4
Historians of education have utilized visual representations of school and have
argued for methods of analysis that consider what is evident in the image as well as
the social, technical and cultural histories of its production. They have also called for
an acknowledgement of how images do not simply impart information but engage the
emotions of the onlooker and as such have been powerfully employed to construct an
image of education and schooling over the past century and a half.5 Here we wish to
take these arguments further in attending to how the embodied schoolchild in the
frame acts as an essential means of cementing or securing the belief in school through
cultural discourses at the interface between school and community.
School photographic albums represent an interesting and to date largely
unexplored resource of histories of particular schools usually presented in a chrono-
logical way. Here we can find the represented body of the schoolchild, often alongside
teachers and other professionals, individually or in groups. We can observe their
clothes, the expression of their faces, the position of their bodies and the arrange-
ments of materials that surround them. Family albums and domestic spaces such as
walls, display cabinets and increasingly the World Wide Web also store and preserve
such images, affording them status and value in the home.
The art and photography critic, John Berger, has encouraged us to think critically
about images within cultural histories.6 He sees photography as falling broadly into
two main camps, the public and the private. For our purposes, such a division can

Wenders, W., in conversation with Jansen, P.W. The Truth of Images: Two Conversations
with Peter W. Jansen, in Wenders, W. The Act of Seeing: Essays and Conversations. Frankfurt: Verlag
der Autoren, 1992. (English translation by Michael Hoffman) London: Faber & Faber, 1996: 523.
Fischman, G. E. Reflections about Images, Visual Culture and Educational Research.
Educational Researcher 30, no, 8 (2001): 2833.
See, for example, the following collections: Grosvenor, Ian, M. Lawn, and K. Rousmaniere. eds.
Silences and Images: The Social History of the Classroom. New York: Peter Lang, 1999; Grosvenor,
Ian, and Martin Lawn. The Challenge of the Visual in the History of Education. Paedagogica
Historica 36, no. 1 (2000); 1117; Ways of Seeing. History of Education 30, no. 2 (2001); Myers,
K., U. Mietzner, and N. Peim. Visual History. Images of Education. London: Peter Lang, 2005.
Berger, J. Ways of Seeing. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1972.
216 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro

lead us to think about the spaces of the public institutionthe school, and the private
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

homewithin the community. Photographs produced as public institutional docu-

ments offer information and are consumed by the viewer as an alienated object. The
photograph produced within the public realm of the school but intended for private
documentation and consumption, however, can only be read within a context of
meaning supplied by memory and association. If we apply this to the two types of
school photographs that we want to consider here, such a duality appears to be inad-
equate. It seems that the school photograph and in particular the embodiment of
school in the annual portrait that finds its place in the home is neither public nor
private but straddles the two domains acting as a border crosser encouraging
emotional investment in the notion of school. Crucial here is the inexorable order,
regularity and persistence of form and style generating assurance and belief and
indeed hope in the effects of education on generations of children.

Public and Private Dichotomies: The Embodiment of Schooling

The camera was invented in 1839 but it was not until the 1880s that popular photog-
raphy and family portraiture became accessible to more than just an elite. The history
of the camera in the school is yet to be written but the earliest portraits and class photo-
graphs date from before the turn of the twentieth century. The public archive is the
place for the public memory of school located in museums, libraries and schools them-
selves. But school portraiture belongs not only in the official record but also in the
private and personal collection located in domestic spacesnotably the family album.
This is evidence of a cultural history in the sense of culture as having a shared sense
of meaning. Across the industrialized world, the vast majority of those who have been
to school for at least one year have at least had the opportunity of sitting for a school
portrait and a school photograph is generally recognizable through its coded symbol-
ism. Differences occur not in the mode but in the detailusually in the arrangement
of bodies in relation to objects or in relation to a set of ideas prevalent in a particular
community at that time about, for example, schooling, childhood, or gender identity.
It seems that some of the earliest examples of schoolchild iconography portend
what subsequently occurs in the arrangement of bodies for the purposes of school
photography and portraiture. Take, for example, the images of the schoolchild
presented in England as public icons during the 1870s, the decade that saw the intro-
duction of mass schooling in the nation.
In Figure 2 two images of schoolchildren are projected into the public realm at
Figure 2. The Perfect School Child.

about the same time in England. One is an architectural feature decorating the right
side of the main entrance to the Leeds School Board building, erected during the
1870s.7 The other is an illustration from the Illustrated London News, June 1876. The
detailed attention to material artefacts in the images of schoolchildren already
suggests an important territory of tension between the public and the private, the

On the left of the main entrance to the building, we find a matching figure of a schoolboy.
Photograph, C. Burke.
History of Education 217
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Figure 2. The Perfect School Child.

institutional and the domestic. Such iconography was featured in school buildings
across Europe and there are some interesting examples found even earlier in
Londons Charity Schools where statues of schoolboys and -girls adorned the
premises from as early as the 1690s.8 In each of the images, what we might identify
as a perfect school child is represented. There are signs which suggest and convey a
message to the onlooker of progress (through the public realm of the books carried)
and stability (through the domestic association of the basket carried). The domestic
basket on one side of the figure contrasts with the books on the other side, suggesting
that the child is caught or contained between two worlds: the domestic and the insti-
tutional, the home and the school. This publicprivate symbolic polarity is one that
appears to be vital in creating and maintaining the public imagination of schooling.
We need to recognize that the 1870s was a moment of considerable popular unease
in England where the notion of public state-sponsored compulsory schooling chal-
lenged the idea of childhood and the state and these images are constructed to address
that insecurity. But what are we to make of the gaze of the schoolchild expressed here
and how does this connect with subsequent constructed images of the schoolchild
captured in portraits in England and around the world?

Holyoake, G. Survivors of the First Free Schools. London Charity Children Statues. Country
Life 13 November 1980.
218 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Figure 3. Two School Children, 1948. Photographic Advertising Ltd; Photographer. Copyright,
National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, NMPFT.

Public Images: Silences within the Frame

Public images of schooling are usually produced and framed to illustrate the presence
of certain features, to reassure an essentially excluded audience of the sound, secure,
caring and professional interior, access to which was otherwise denied and hidden
from the outsider. However, such images provoke an emotional response due their
incompleteness, their emotional charge, their everyday dynamic. The immediate
tendency when looking at such images in a research context is to attempt to describe
and explain what they contain. Another way of seeing is to attend to the way these
images connect with memory and allow for other stories to be told.
In Figure 3, we see an image of two schoolchildren, created and marketed by an
Figure 3. Two School Children, 1948. Photographic Advertising Ltd; Photographer. Copyright, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, NMPFT.

advertising company in the 1940s, which is clearly designed to convey a certain view
of the child consistent with hope and belief in a future society. As in the portraits of
an earlier era, the 1870s, the image contains elements that are designed to reassure,
to deal with unease, to communicate that all is well in a society turned upside down
by war. This is a public image dealing with not only schooling but also the issue of
gender and the tensions around gender equality and difference. The body of the
schoolboy and -girl are presented equally, each with foot slightly raised in readiness
to go forward, shoes and stockings identical and reassuringly neat. The school dress
for each is sufficiently differentiated to calm any nerves about the blending of bound-
aries between the sexes and the cheerful expression of these children of about the
same age is engaging and communicates normalcy. This is essentially a school photo-
graph even though the landscape of school is missing. The silence in the image is
therefore even more powerfully communicated. Such an image could act as a reassur-
ing bond between home and school through the carefully constructed and repre-
sented bodies of the schoolchildren. At the same time, such an idealized image could
be interpreted as alien to economically disadvantaged communities for whom such
History of Education 219

experience was out of reach. So much we can tell from looking. But who was the
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

photographer? How was the photograph used? Which products were marketed
through this image? Who were these children? What was their relationship? How has
this image come to survive for over half a century projecting an image of schooling?
And what is the nature of the relationship brought about through the public gaze
between this image, the school portrait and belief in the institution of school?9

About Looking
Recent commentary by historians of education concerning the use of images in
understanding the visual and material cultures of school environments argues for the
importance of surpassing their use as mere illustrations. As Kate Rousmaniere states:
Images can be used not only to document, but also to mobilize emotion and political
analysis.10 We are led through this discourse to a different way of looking at them,
aware of the importance of hidden details, and to concentrate on our reactions, ideas
and feelings11 in the act of viewing, selecting and commenting. This new way of
seeing also points to new ways of questioning the visual document that is the object
of historical analysis, trying to understand what lies behind the visible, what is the
meaning of that shown part of schooling, why is this or that element absent or chosen
to be photographed, placed in a central position, focused on, or made invisible.

Analysis of a Classic School Photograph

In the following sections of this paper, the official school photograph albums of two
schools in Lisbon, Portugal have been compared and analysed. Such images both
belong to the school and can also be seen to act as part of the publicprivate discourse
on schooling. The schools follow a similar educational project as they both belong to
the same institution, a religious order. A first glance at the images included in the
photographic albums of the two schools reveals substantial differences concerning
the organization of the album and the selector(s) point of view. We had imagined
finding a photographic album illustrating the school functioning, showing the
classrooms, the school materials being used by the students, pedagogical activities,
and formal and informal frozen memories of each school year. These expectations
were not met. Such absences in turn drew attention to the role of both the photogra-
pher who made the images and the selector who constructed the school album, the
latter influenced by his/her own pedagogical ideas or sensibilities or by his/her

For a wider discussion of visual and material cultures of schooling, see Grosvenor, Lawn, and
Rousmaniere, Silences and Images.
Rousmaniere, K. Questioning the Visual in the History of Education. History of Education 30,
no. 2 (2001): 10916.
Grosvenor, Ian, Martin Lawn, and Kate Rousmaniere. Imaging Past Schooling: the Necessity
for Montage. The University of Leuven ISCHE Workshop, Summer 1998. Available from http:// (accessed 1 November 2006); IN-
220 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro

particular understanding of the schools tradition, influencing what is considered to

Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

be important or not important.

In the first school that we will call School A, the viewer is confronted with one
photographic album presenting a selection of images chronologically arranged show-
ing course groups photographs, some examples of annual feasts, First Communions
and a small number of images taken during school trips with the students. There are
also a dozen files full of test prints from recent years. In the second school, School B,
three albums are available with the possibility to search for other unclassified photo-
graphs collected in archive boxes. We were also made aware of other selected photos
included on the schools website. One of the three albums was dedicated to a special
event, the visit of the President of the USAs wife to the school in 1985; the other two
also included photographs taken on special occasions such as religious celebrations,
group trips or annual feasts, but the albums were dated and so dedicated to a certain
academic year. Finally, another source was made availablethe personal albums or
books of memories of former and actual students from both schools.
A particular opportunity arose in investigating the album collection at School A.
Here, the official photographer for the school over the last four decades began to work
in School B during the 1980s. This led us to consider the images in a particular light.
We recognized that the kinds of situations photographed over the years were almost
identical in each school and there was a similarity in the chosen contexts. With this
additional knowledge we became aware that we were looking at images across and
through time identify(ing) elements of continuity and disjuncture, engag(ing) with
changing discourses of education.12
Every year this same photographer made images of the youngest students individ-
ually and in small groups in similar positions and sites in the schoolyard and in the
classroom recording the great events and the class all together with the teacher.
Figures 4, 5 and 6 are examples of this kind of photograph and were all taken in
School A. In Figure 4 we have a group photograph of the first class in 19651966,
which we may want to identify as a classic school photograph. The teacher is absent.
The 31 girls, who were about six or seven years old, stand side by side in two rows
but they maintain a certain distance from the next colleague; we are given the impres-
sion that each child is presenting a face to the future onlooker. Someone might have
told them to keep their arms alongside their bodies and stay still. But they are not
motionless and indeed are laughing, their bodies in play, seemingly joyful. Some look
shy and we can observe that some of them could not keep their arms down and used
their hands to cover their faces while others without moving their arms are moving
their head and their shoulders as if trying to disappear in the photo. It is their first
experience of being photographed as a group and it is likely that they do not know the
photographer. The children are not the only focus in this photograph: there is a large
frame that makes the children seem smaller before their school; recently washed stone
stairs and white painted tall walls surround them. All of the children wear uniform,

History of Education 221
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Figure 4. School A. Course group, 19651966. Portugal. Private collection.

except three of the girls: a pleated skirt in brown-and-white checked fabric, a tie made
in the same fabric, a white shirt and a brown wool pullover or coat; white or brown
stockings and brown shoes.13
The next photograph (Figure 5) was taken three years later, in 19681969, by the
Figure 5.
4. School A. Course group, 19681969.
19651966. Portugal. Private collection.

same official photographer: it is of the same group that meanwhile had increased
and then been divided into two smaller classes. Once again we see the same classic
choreography of what appears to be its object, the class group within the traditional
place for such an image: the front stairs. Behind the group is a half-open door that
lets us just see another group already prepared in a disciplined queue to be the next.
Here we see a smiling teacher in the middle of the back row. The students wear the
same uniform and those that are at the front have complied with instructions to
keep their arms alongside their body; only one of them has her left hand in her wool
coats pocket. In the middle row we may observe different positions, for example
the girl on the left of the photograph who rests her hands on her front colleagues
shoulders. Most of them are smiling, some laugh, others try to keep their mouth
shut. It is probably their fourth experience of the group photograph and they are
now experienced in the performance required. We can guess that some of them are
not very pleased to be posing. They are closer to each other and the group is the
focus: we can see each student individually while the frame is almost absent. It
seems that besides this group nothing else at that moment mattered to the photog-

Earlier photos show the students with an almost masculine aspect, using the same uniform with
no ties; very long skirts and the white shirts fasten to the upper button.
222 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Figure 5. School A. Course group, 19681969. Portugal. Private collection.

The same photographer took the photograph in Figure 6 in the same school more
than 20 years later, which represents a gap of a generation. There are boys in what
was previously a female school. The mothers of some of the children in this photo-
graph are in former photographs. There are no overalls but the children use
uniforms very similar to those used in earlier photos. The girls skirt is now a kilt
and the boys wear short trousers in the same fabric. There are no ties. The children
seem very free in their positions and in their ways of expressing themselves: they are
laughing and the little boy on the right is making faces. The children in the first row
are sitting crossed-legged on the ground and those in the second sit on a bench. The
teacher, standing behind the children, is leaning over them, as if she wanted to
embrace them or to keep them in her arms. The frame is now different: the photo-
graph was not taken in the traditional place, on the schools front steps, but within a
green environment.
The last photograph from this set (Figure 7) particularly interested us for two
Figure 6. School A. Course group, 19961997. Portugal. Private collection.

reasons: first, the position assumed by both the teacher and the students touching
each other and even putting their arms over the next colleagues shoulders as though
they wanted to make a chain between them all including the teacher; and second, the
monogram inscribed on some shirt pockets as part of the uniform, which seems to
have become softer in keeping with the mood of the group.
In this descriptive narrative, as historians, we could choose to talk about the
Figure 7. School A. Course group, 20012002. Portugal. Private collection.

control and the discipline of the schoolchild and its variation over the years but we
have also decided to note the representation of human care and its expression.
And although we can acknowledge that affectivity has never been absent in these
photographs, the evolution of bodies positions and interactions shows a certain
development in the expressions of closeness and friendship, of the groups sense of
itself and of healthy and joyful human relationships concerning both the teacher
History of Education 223
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Figure 6. School A. Course group, 19961997. Portugal. Private collection.

and the students. We can also see in these images the schools identity changing
through its outward expression in the uniformed body of the schoolchild; a
uniform, which is a sign of belonging to a corpus, where individual difference is
articulated through the attempt to be oneself, through a subversion of the
uniformed body.

Figure 7. School A. Course group, 20012002. Portugal. Private collection.

224 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro

The Eye of the Photographer

Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

Since we know that this same photographer worked with successive generations of
schoolchildren at these school sites, we can note what was consistent and what
changed over time. We are reminded that the principle reason behind his actions was
to create photographs to sell them. So, he made the images that parents would be
interested in: those of their own children in different, clearly distinguished circum-
stances and conforming to certain notions of respectability. The photographs so
produced were, in the main, destined to be gathered and assembled in personal
albums as memories of school time and of school fellowship. The photographer
conformed to this market demand and to a certain professional and cultural under-
standing of what makes a good school photograph. He therefore made a series of
photographs of the same moment, repeating an established iconic pattern. Sometimes
he made general view photos but his purpose was still the same: to make good
marketable photographs. To do this, he chose the best angle, avoiding untidy places,
leaving out of the frame parts of real life.
These professional school photographs are certainly different from those taken by
the students parents that also feature in personal albums. The official photographer
has a privileged position: usually he could circulate in the schoolyard and in the class-
rooms during his work time and would be free to circulate at the front of the audience
at great public events while the parents would take their photos mainly from their
seats. The photographers work is also conditioned by the schools orientation. In this
analysis we realized that the two schools had different traditions concerning official
photography: in School B there was no established tradition of class or group photo-
graphs; in the other school every year the same photographer took photographs of
each class with the corresponding teacher. From examining the albums of the two
schools, containing images taken by the same photographer, we see the effect of the
different traditions and imposed conditions for image making in each school. So, we
can conclude that while there is a formal and identifiable iconography of schooling,
certain differences have developed over time through local site-specific expectations.

Border Crossing: PublicPrivate Images of School

The experience of viewing photographic images of schoolchildren in classrooms and
other school environments is impossible to dissect from individual and collective
memories of childhood and schooling in such contexts. Such subjectivity is problem-
atic for the historian who has learned to be concerned with matters of validity, truth
and rigour in the research process. Reflexivity is demanded in this rich territory of
memory and myth and the body emerges strongly as a conveyor of memory. Most
adults now living in the Western world remember lining up and taking up uncomfort-
able and unusual poses for the photographers annual visit. Images, in their very
ambiguity, have the power to persuade the viewer to read them as a text; the silences
and absences encouraging the viewer to establish or furnish meaning, thus construct-
ing histories. For the historian, the search for meaning in such constructed images
History of Education 225

requires a certain relaxation of the eye to allow the research imagination room to
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

shape itself.
Images made as part of schooling but which play an important cultural role outside
school draw attention to the power of photography as extended memory. Such
images, which bridge the publicprivate divide, can act as keys to memory so that the
subject in the image may not be known but can allow association and identification
in the research process. The school portrait is carefully choreographed and designed.
Common to much school photography is the emphasis on the primacy of literacy,
which is communicated via an arrangement of certain artefacts such as carefully
arranged pens and books.
The child is required to look directly at the camera, into the eyes of immediate and
Figure 8. School portrait, Spain.

future generations of elders. Such images act as border crossers linking time as the
image resounds with past generations similarly constructed images. The school
photograph also crosses the borders between school and community, the public and
the private. Border crossing can also happen through photo elicitation whereby the
story of the photograph can be narrated from the point of view of the subject revealing
layers of meaning and mythology within the image. However universal the school
photograph is, there are cultural differences, which reflect national cultural preoccu-
pations pointing to the rich research possibilities of comparative cultural histories.14

Final Thoughts
This work reinforces the idea that we can choose to look at images (photographs in
this particular case) as valid sources for the history of education, surpassing the illus-
trative traditional use historians typically have given them. In this way, school photo-
graphic albums as well as photographs included in family albums or students books
of memories can help the historians of education in their effort to understand the
school when they allow themselves to be led by what they see, what is present, as well
as what is silenced. So, analysing school photographs is about looking with our own
reflexivity as historians and at the same time attempting to look through the eye of the
photographer, the eye of the school and the eye of the family and wider commu-
nity. Although we accept that photographs register real moments in time, we cannot
forget that in their production and in the act of subsequent viewing, they are sites of
layered constructions of reality.
This article has discussed the public and private dichotomy of the embodied
schoolchild as constructed and represented in publicinstitutional and private
community spaces. It has explored how schools have incorporated the school photo-
graph within their particular school cultures with regard to universal and local

One contemporary example of such collaborative comparative work is emerging through the
EU (Socrates) project, Childhood, Youth and Education in European Cultural History, which is
building a Web-based archive of images drawn from five partner countries to support a European
MA. See;
226 C. Burke and H. Ribeiro de Castro

expectations of school photography. It has considered how the image of the school-
Downloaded By: [de Castro, Helena Ribeiro] At: 12:11 27 March 2007

child occupies an important position in articulating school via a merging of the

public and the private and has attempted to illuminate how historians of education
might work with a collection of images selected from school photograph albums
within a theoretical framework concerning the role of the school photograph in the
iconography of school.