Carolyn Mendelsohn: Through Our Lens: Growing up with Covid-19

Through Our Lens: Growing up with Covid-19  (originally known as Through Our Lens – Covid 19 Project) began in April 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Initiated by artist and photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn, the multi-layered project has been driven by the talent and creativity of more than 100 young people in the Bradford district, who have participated in Zoom masterclasses, received mentoring, shot their own photographs and developed several exhibition platforms for their striking and experimental work. The photographs share their unique stories of this challenging time. Below, Anneka French speaks with Mendelsohn about the creation and growth of this distinctive project.


AF: How did the pandemic become the catalyst for Through Our Lens: Growing up with Covid-19 ?

CM: A month prior to the first lockdown, I was preparing for an exhibition and publication of my portrait series Being Inbetween and other commissions. Then everything stopped and I had three teenagers who all suddenly had to come home. I was really concerned about what was happening to them and to other young people during the pandemic and started to make a social photographic document of my family which I posted on Instagram. Bradford Metropolitan District Council allocated funding to Covid response projects and because there was nothing in the emerging narrative about young people’s experiences, at a time when they were traumatised and their lives were dismantled, I wanted to enable them to tell their story.

AF: Why do you think young people’s voices are missing from the mainstream narrative?

CM: Young people and children have no agency. Unless there is something obviously newsworthy at the time which directly involves young people, they are not seen or heard. Their lives are pretty much controlled by their timetables, their families, their guardians; they’re not encouraged to speak out generally.

AF: How did you develop your initial idea?

CM: I did a call out to young people in the Bradford district. No previous experience was required and my offer was to run workshops, guide and mentor young people aged 13 to 19 (later extended from 12 to 20). I got quite a lot of responses and arranged parental permissions and access to Zoom for an initial group of 20.

AF: What made them respond to the open call?

Read in full here.

Interview commissioned and published by Photomonitor, April 2022.

Image: Documenting Family Life, June 16, 2020 © Kasey Surtees