Back to School
Magnum photographers capture the September new-school-year feeling
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.