Back to School

Magnum photographers capture the September new-school-year feeling

Magnum Photographers

David Seymour First day in school.The children going for the first time to school were brought in by their mothers, and they were all dressed up for the occasion. Village of Pilis (9.500 inhabitants), 40 km from (...)
Jean Gaumy Nursery school. Playground. Octeville sur Mer. Normandy. September 1990. © Jean Gaumy | Magnum Photos
Raghu Rai Moments from daily life, Ghum. West Bengal, India. 2015 © Raghu Rai | Magnum Photos
Jim Goldberg San Francisco, CA. USA. 2001. (From the book "Ruby Every Fall.") © Jim Goldberg | Magnum Photos
Patrick Zachmann "Ecole de la Réussite" a private Muslim school. IDF. Aubervilliers, Seine Saint Denis, France. April 2003."Ecole de la Réussite" a private Muslim school. IDF. Aubervilliers, Seine Saint Denis, Fran (...)
David Seymour The first day in school. The children are dressed up in their Sunday best for this important occasion. Village of Pilis, 40 km from Budapest. September. © David Seymour | Magnum Photos
Philip Jones Griffiths School prayers, Middlesbrough. England. GB. 1976. © Philip Jones Griffiths | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker A Brooklyn school student sits with a painting of an arsonist and a father who carries the whole world on his shoulder. New York City, USA. 1983. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Patrick Zachmann Catholic school, Thornhill. Londonderry, Northern Ireland. 1991. © Patrick Zachmann | Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold High school students studying between classes. Port Jefferson, Long Island. USA. 1955. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos
Peter Marlow A fifth-form remedial English class. Founded as a technical high school in 1953, the school became a mixed comprehensive in 1971. The pupils across the ability range average three O-levels each, al (...)
Bruce Gilden Participant in a high school speed debating contest in the Chicago suburbs. Illinois, USA. 2011. © Bruce Gilden | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb School prayers. Bombardopolis, Haiti. 1986. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Abbas Sultan Kadarat village. A veiled teacher of the Islamic Center of Ibn Taimyah (financed by Saudis). Cotabato, Philippines. 1995. © Abbas | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr Bristol Grammar School. Bristol, England. GB. From 'The Cost of Living'. 1986-89. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

In numerous parts of the world September marks the beginning of the academic year. For many the arrival of this month brings to mind the end of the long summer holidays and a return to routine, the impatient hemming of handed-down uniforms, the boredom of roll-call, and excitement–or cold-sweats–at the prospect of being unleashed into the playground.

As a universal experience, school has often interested Magnum photographers, whether on home turf or abroad. In 1948, David Seymour captured Hungarian school girls in the village of Pilis on their first day of school. The photographs now feel nostalgic, harking back to an era when school turn-out wasn’t so much about iPads, but rather your Sunday best and the shine on your shoes.

Fast-forward several decades, and Magnum photographers showcase the issues facing contemporary global education. Alex Webb travelled to Haiti, photographing children quiet in the midst of morning prayer. Peter Marlow zooms in on the manicured grounds of Eton, an expensive private school for boys, documenting how the upper-class echelons are prepped for the ‘halls of power’. In contrast, Thomas Hoepker shows how less-privileged children are desperately in need of a supportive school system, photographing a young boy sitting beside a painting of, ‘an arsonist and a father who carries the whole world on his shoulder’. 

Jim Goldberg decided to photograph his daughter, Ruby, each September, from her first day of kindergarten through to her final year of college. Taking a more emotional approach, Goldberg captures what each parent feels, watching their child navigating the familiar cycles of term-time and holidays, rapidly moving toward adulthood.

While the breadth of images prove school may differ in each country and is subject to change over the decades, for many, September brings back familiar memories of the start of a new term and consequently a chance to reinvent ourselves anew.

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