It's incredible to think it's already been a year since I was last at Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre (HARC) doing a workshop based on Derek Evans work - but here I am again surrounded by school-children in these fantastic surroundings. The idea of the workshops is to help schools make a film about their own local heritage inspired by Derek's photographs - a very simple idea but one that always bears fruit. The school-children's final films then get screened at a special gala premiere at the Hereford Odeon. We have been doing this for two years now but each year there's been some cracking films.
Last year one highlight was Ronnie Radford, who scored a legendary goal for Hereford United in an FA cup tie against First Division Newcastle United in 1972 ( oft quoted as a goal of the century on BBC sports programmes), as he sat watching the Stretton Sugwas school film about the match in our kitchen. He and his wife Annie were chuckling away throughout the whole thing: it was a genuine joy to watch.
The workshop started with a guided tour around HARC which in itself is an inspiring Passivhaus construction. The children were thoroughly impressed when we went inside the vaults with chief archivist Rhys Griffith, to look at some of the oldest documents in the archive. A letter or deeds from the time of the Norman Conquests, and a huge book of ledgers from Medieval Herefordshire.
The children then came crashing back into the present-day with some hands-on knowledge of editing, bringing together video interviews, cutaways and photographs, and then adding extra effects using those mini-triumphs of tech: the iPad. (And no I'm not on commission from Apple - I wish).
When Mark Sanderson and I started delivering these workshops over 15 years ago, we had chunky camcorders and mini-DV tape and days of stress importing and editing the media onto school computers. But now each child creates their own edit on their own iPad using resources we've loaded onto the project website: www.herefordshirelifethroughalens.org.uk.
It took them a few minutes to master the software and then they were off. Inevitably they got a lot of fun out of speeding up the voices and adding lots of effects, but they all had a decent edit by the end of the session, adding titles and music too.
After this, the group went into the large room at HARC to sort through some of Derek's exhibition prints. They were done when silver was still used in photographic paper and, to me, they still sparkled. It was a great opportunity to start a dialogue with the students about different aspects of days past, and changing attitudes. Pristine images of royalty, the may fair, nuns, animals, and more all went by like a whistle-stop time travel tour of the mid 20th Century. Stunning to think that many of these prints hadn't been seen outside the studio for over 50 years.
While the students were busy curating their own mini-exhibition, pairs also went over to one of our indispensable project volunteers Christine Earl, who then gave the children a chance to hold and scrutinise some of Derek's actual original negatives.
When I first began the project, I was shocked when my assumption that a group of teenagers would know what a negative was, was proved wrong. So on that day, not only did I feel just that little bit older but I also understood it was crucial for children realise how different the practise of photography was in the pre-digital analogue world.
Christine then helped them to scan the negatives using a nice bit of software that inverted the image so that it looked correct. These scans will then be uploaded to www.herefordshirehistory.org.uk.
At the end of the day I think one of the special things about these sessions is that it's not only the children but the adults too who are wowed by the idea of handling amazing historical artefacts and that these artefacts often relate directly to their local surroundings. What’s not to like. Very cool.
We have ten participating schools this year. The results of their hard work and creativity will be shown at the beginning of July. The films will be available to watch online soon after.