'Power of young voices': Exhibition of photos taken by children highlights the pandemic's toll on their mental health

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Watch: ‘Show and Tell’ TV presenter Anna Richardson was among the judges

How are young people coping in the global pandemic? What is going on in young minds as schools and colleges close and the world focuses on daily death rates, lockdown restrictions and vaccination programmes?

Organisers of a new photography exhibition hope they might be able to shed some light.

Launching this month, ‘Show and Tell’ is a powerful project that highlights the mental health impact of the pandemic on the younger generation.

Over the last four months, youngsters have been asked to capture images on their smartphones which answer the simple question: ‘How are you feeling?’

'Fear' by Caitlyn
'Fear' by Caitlyn Sims, 18, from Staffordshire, was the selection made by judge and world-renowned photographer Rankin.

More than 20,000 children and teens aged 10-18 have submitted work to the exhibition and the results are as haunting as they are powerful.

‘Fear’ shows a figure shrouded in red netting, their head in their hands, ‘Escape To My World’ features a little girl reflecting alone at her dressing table, while in another a teenager has inked the words “Rethink, Reskill, Reboot” onto her cheek. The image is simply titled: ‘Unemployable?’

Read more: Why children as young as 10 have been taking photos to support their mental health

“We’ve been astounded by how profound these images are,” says Steve Wallington, one of the co-founders of The Photography Movement, which is behind the project. “They’re incredibly moving and many are so wise.

“The pictures all tell stories that will resonate with people all over the world and the feelings and expressions of emotion they provoke are so empowering and strong. The exhibition has had a fantastically diverse and compelling number of entrants.

“No one has ever given these kids a voice before but these images really stop you in your tracks and make you think about what our younger generation are going through right now.”

'Unemployable' by Fawziya Haji, 15
'Unemployable' by Fawziya Haji, 15, from north London was selected by judge and BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nihal Arthanayak.

The words accompanying some of the entries are as heartbreaking as they are honest.

“I found that my mind became a mess,” says 16-year-old Liana Juksa, from Nottinghamshire. “We’re all suffering one way or another. It’s just what it has come to, and we can’t do anything about it.”

Ten-year-old Anne Wang from north London says: “I feel like time has stretched and the minutes seem like hours and the hours seem like days. The future seems to be a long way ahead of me and I just can’t see it in my eyes.”

Read more: How a camera helped one photographer overcome a difficult childhood

The project was designed to help youngsters alleviate stress and anxiety and it has been warmly embraced by pupils, teachers and experts alike.

“The level of uncertainty facing young people is having a profound impact on their wellbeing and mental health,” says Kenza Dairi, from the charity Mental Health UK.

“By taking part in a positive and creative activity such as photography, young people can help to build their confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety.”

'Suffering' by Liana Juksa, 16
'Suffering' by Liana Juksa, 16, from Nottinghamshire was the selection of judge and Getty Images senior advisor Lee Martin.
'Escaping To My World' by Willow Moore
'Escaping To My World' by Willow Moore, 10, from Greater London was chosen by judge and EyeEm CEO Simon Cox.

Headteacher Robin Warren, from Primrose Hill Primary School in London, agrees.

“For children to immerse themselves in this media is wonderful; and in doing something which is different, relaxing, gentle and individual compared to other areas of school – win win for me!’ he says.

Read more: Why Rankin wants children to take photos to improve their mental health

“The children’s early work – going for local walks, selecting meaningful images, choosing their word – have been rewarding activities for them which have enabled them to work in the classroom as well as at home.”

Due to the current lockdown, the exhibition will take place online but copies of some of the entries will be displayed in 15 live locations in the UK.

Judges include world-renowned photographer Rankin, BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake, model and TV presenter Daisy Lowe and advertising creative director Trevor Robinson.

'Jumbled' by Max Mistry, 18
'Jumbled' by Max Mistry, 18, from West Sussex was selected by judge and photographer Daniel Regan.

“I am thrilled to be part of this fantastic project,” says Rankin. “I have always believed in the power of young voices and ‘Show and Tell’ asks the right question at the right time to the right people. I can’t wait to see the final selection of images and hear the voices of UK youth for this very special exhibition.”

Fellow judge Daisy Lowe says: “Seeing how brilliant all of the entries were made it really tough choosing the one that resonated the most with me as so many were touching. I can't wait to see the final exhibition and see what ‘Show and Tell’ does next.”

The Show and Tell exhibition can be seen on Instagram from 15 February.

'Sorrow' by Adnan
'Sorrow' by Adnan Islam, 11, from north London was selected by judge and TV star Anna Richardson.
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