September is a busy month in the Rainey Room - four of our friends celebrate their birthday this month! Taking the special emphasis we place on birthdays at St. John's into consideration, we decided to only celebrate one birthday per week.
As we shared with you last week, every child will receive their special birthday portrait as a gift this year. Our hope is that every birthday portrait will represent each child's uniqueness, their interests and true personalities. As a result of that no one birthday committee process, work and birthday present will be the same. In our conversations with the committee and birthday child themselves we explore different approaches and ways to best show and highlight the individual child and her/his passions. Through this ever-changing and adapting process our understanding of portraiture and of each other will evolve and expand throughout the year and beyond.
What is a portrait?
Bea: It’s where you make yourself differently.
Finlay: You take a picture.
Bea: Make yourself different.
Finlay: That’s a selfie (when you take a photo of yourself).
Bea: I’m saying someone takes a picture of you.
This week, Hugh, Jade and Cape collaborated on a birthday committee for our friend Michael, who turned 4 years old on Sunday. In this blog post we want to highlight their process, thoughts, ideas and work as part of the committee. They met every day this week as a small group, gathering and sharing information about Michael, collecting and discussing materials, setting up for the photo shoot and selecting Michael's birthday portrait.
Gathering information in large and small group settings
At our Morning Meeting on Monday we began collecting information about Michael.
Sam: Michael, do you have any favorite colors?
Sam: What does our friend Michael like to do in the classroom?
Bea: He likes to do photo booth.
Sam: What do you like to dress up in?
Sam: What does a builder look like?
Bea: Like a construction.
Michael: A hat!
Daniel: A yellow hat! With letters. With black letters that says construction.
Sam: What other things do you like, Michael?
Michael: Cape and me.
Sam: You like Cape. Cape is one of your best friends.
Cape: I really like him, too.
Jade: I know he likes trucks and building.
After our initial large group conversation, the birthday committee discussed the information gathered about Michael and his interests and how to best integrate them into the portrait.
Ines: How could we include his favorite color, green, in the birthday photo?
Hugh: With trees. Trees are green.
Jade: And bushes, bushes are green.
Cape: We could use lettuce trees.
Hugh: We have real trees outside but we don’t have real trees inside the school. Plants are trees. That could be on the side.
Jade: Bushes can’t be in here but like plants can be in here.
Ines: What do you think he would like to see in the photo?
Hugh: He likes Thomas the Train.
Cape: When we go back into the classroom we should ask him if he likes that.
Hugh: We could put like cars or trains.
Jade: Like trucks.
Hugh: Maybe one of his very special toys or something.
Jade: Maybe cars. Maybe dinosaurs?
Hugh: I really like to play trains with my dad.
Cape: I have built trains with Michael at my house.
collecting relevant materials around the school
Hugh: Maybe, look there’s some green trees over here.
Jade, Hugh and Cape sort trees they found in the middle room by color (green or brown)
Jade: And trucks. I think maybe, in the Rainey room.
Jade leads us from the middle room into Rainey room to look for trucks in our construction area
Hugh: The trains! And Thomas the Train. And maybe we can find some other trains? I know which trains he likes.
Jade picks out a train wagon
Hugh: He doesn’t like the backs.
Jade: Yes, he does.
Cape: Is that one of the backs?
Hugh: We should ask him if he likes these.
involving Michael in selection process
The next day, the birthday committee presented their collected materials and ideas for his portrait to Michael and asked him some clarifying questions like ...
Jade: What’s your favorite train?
Hugh: Do you like these trains? Do you like this particular kind of train front?
Ines: What is your favorite outfit? The builder or the police men? We noticed that you wear both outfits in the classroom.
Hugh: And remember the other question was, do you like the back of the trains?
Jade: Or the front of the trains?
Michael let us know that he prefers the yellow construction vest and helmet and the the train engines ("I want the front." - Michael). During our time with Michael in the middle room we noticed his heightened interest in the train pieces as well as a yellow construction crane that he found in the room. This gave us some more ideas for the set-up of his portrait.
Hugh: Let’s get more trains. I think more trains would be better.
Jade: Let’s put that in the birthday committee because I think he likes it (observing Michael playing with the construction crane).
setting and composition
In this step we ask ourselves the question "How can our choices of props, outfit, setting and composition best support and depict the birthday child?" Based on our close observations of Michael, we explored options and places for taking photos outside of the photo booth, which was used by the last committee.
Ines: Where do you think would be a good place to take Michael’s birthday photo? That’s called a setting. The place where the photoshoot takes place, where we take the picture.
Jade: Construction area? Because he’s in construction area right now.
Ines: Where in construction area should we take the photo?
Jade: Looks like he’s in that side of construction area right now. I think he likes the blocks there (this shelf contains our building blocks compared to the other shelf which contains animals, and other building materials) and he can play trains there and then he can be close to them (when taking the photo).
Ines: In the photo, do you think should Michael sit or stand?
Jade: Stand! Because I think he wants to be tall.
(reconsidering her choice while setting up the area)
Jade: (we need) A stool! I think he should sit. Because maybe he should sit because I don’t think he would like to knock down the tracks.
Ines: When we talk about taking photos we also talk about the background and the foreground. What’s the background in a photo?
Hugh: Behind you.
Jade: Books are behind my back (pointing at the bookshelf behind her).
Ines: And the foreground, what is the foreground?
Hugh: In front of you. On the table.
Ines: We thought about using the construction area in the classroom as our setting for the photo shoot. What should be in the background and what should be in the foreground of the photo?
Hugh: I think a foreground would be better than a background. Because you can see it better. Because it’s in front of you.
Jade: No, I think we should put it in the background. Because if the person, the other person’s birthday, they can’t see their present.
Ines: You think it should be in the background, so Michael won’t see what’s in his photo for his present. You would like it to be a surprise.
Cape: I think it should be in the middle.
Hugh: What about if we put it all around?
Jade: What if me make a big present all together and the we can put it all around the sides.
Ines: What would Michael be surrounded with?
Hugh: Construction, cars and trucks and trains.
Cape: What is surrounded mean?
Hugh: You can be surrounded by sharks. Like you can be surrounded by anything.
Jade: We are around this table.
Preparing the selected area for the photo shoot
the photo shoot
At first the children asked Michael to sit in the chair they had prepared for him. The committee quickly noticed Michael's interest in the set-up they had created for his portrait ("I want to build in there" - Michael), and invited him to engage and play with it. This way the photo shoot moved from a more formal setting into an informal setting where the birthday committee took candid ("not staged") photos of Michael. Cape and Hugh explored the zoom function on the camera and continued to adjust the frame with great enthusiasm and success, as Michael explored the area. This shows the children's adaptability to an evolving situation and their motive of truly capturing their friend Michael instead of a constructed version of him.
selecting the birthday portrait
Together they decided on the birthday present...
Jade: I like this one. I like about it that he's getting comfortable. He's playing.
Cape: I like that photo.
Hugh: I like the crane. You can see it up on the shelf.