If your house was on fire what would you try and save, apart from family and pets? I’d want to rescue my secondhand copy of Village School, which completely changed the way I thought about photography projects. It made me realise that I could embark on my own projects, if I put in the necessary time and effort.
Bryn Campbell worked on The Observer newspaper as photographer and picture editor during the 1960s and early 1970s. In the short foreword to Village School he says that he needed a change, after years of reporting violence, misery and high profile events. In his own words – “I wanted to reaffirm, if only to myself, the importance and satisfaction of photographing more normal, everyday life.”
And so Campbell’s labour of love began in the autumn of 1972. Shooting in black and white, nearly every week he spent two or three days recording life at a primary school in the south of England. For one school year, he photographed the children in class, in the playground and out on school trips. There is humour and there are tears. With only 30 children at the school, some faces pop up several times, which helps to give the book unity.
With its sturdy softback cover, at 26 x 25 centimetres the book is just the right size to hold comfortably. After the foreword come 96 pages of photos, with no captions or blank pages. The pictures are all the same size (approximately 22 x 15 centimetres), with a mixture of vertical and horizontal images. That may sound like a recipe for boredom, but nothing could be further from the truth. The quality and sequencing of the pictures are superb and I see something new each time I look at the book.
In 1973, when the project was complete, Campbell organised an exhibition at the school and later the pictures were shown at the Chichester Festival. After more than 20 years, Comus Books published the project in book form. If you enjoy engaging, candid photography I warmly recommend Village School, which can still be found online.
And if there’s a photo book that’s made a deep impression on you, I’d love to hear all about it.