Great Britain

Being Inbetween exhibition of portraits for our times

WEARING a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan INFLUENCER, 11-year-old Ruby declares that her ambition is to “help others be more self confident about themselves”. Becca, 11, affirms that one day she will ride a rollercoaster in her wheelchair. Kiara, 12, wants an end to racism because “I’ve experienced it so I know what it’s like and I don’t want anyone else to feel the way I did.”

These are some of the girls featured in a striking series of portraits exploring the transition between childhood and young adulthood. Made over six years, Being Inbetween highlights girls aged 10-12 in portraits taken by award-winning Saltaire photographer Carolyn Mendelsohn.

Carolyn worked with 90 girls navigating this complex, potentially defining, period in their lives. Through photography and interviews, she encouraged them to reveal their hopes, fears and aspirations.

Now the most extensive exhibition of the portraits to date is at Bradford’s Impressions Gallery (the gallery is currently closed, in line with national restrictions, but the exhibition is online). And the gallery’s youth collective, New Focus, has met three of the girls in Being Inbetween to make a short film, called Girl Power, sharing powerful stories from Alice, Amaira and Kiara.

Alice, from Keighley, chose to be filmed in Haworth outside a bookshop because she’s an aspiring author and inspired by the Brontës. She says: “This portrait was taken when I was 11-years-old, I’m now 13. I want to work in a special school because I would like to help children who are different and help them get through and let them know that they’re not alone.

“I have craniosynostosis, when I was a baby the bones in my head had already fused together. When I was six-months-old I had to have an operation and another when I was one. I think my portrait shows that I’m strong and just because I’ve got a disability, it doesn’t make me different from anyone else.”

Amaira, 14, is an aspiring lawyer who was filmed outside Bradford Crown Court, next to the Delius Leaf sculpture. She says: “My passion for equality started when I became more awake to the news and issues around the world, like people experiencing racial attacks and inequality attacks.

“My hopes for the future are that the world will change and begin to love other people’s differences, but my fear is that the world will become more segregated and that people will just get less of a voice.

Kiara, 12, has ambitions to be a surgeon. She chose to be filmed in Bowling Park. Says Kiara: “I am really passionate about our environment and how it’s being destroyed by people older than my generation. I want to be a surgeon, since I was little I wanted to be some kind of doctor, to help people.”

Adds Kiara: “My hopes for the future is that the environment isn’t in like the state it is now, I I hope it gets better. One of my fears is what if it doesn’t?”

Anne McNeill, director of Impressions Gallery and curator of Being Inbetween, says: “Being Inbetween is a significant and inclusive portrait of our times. These remarkable photographs are playful, yet serious; and while they are a record of our uncertain times, they are, in another way, timeless. We have been blown away by these articulate and inspiring girls. If they are ‘permitted’ to be who they are and what they want to be, then society and humanity will be safe in their hands.”

New Focus member Kanwal, who filmed the girls, says: “Girl Power gives these courageous Bradford girls the chance to share their story, and we hope the film will inspire other young people to help shape their future in positive ways”.

Featuring girls from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds; girls with disabilities and able-bodied; and girls from a range of socio-economic circumstances, Being Inbetween offers an insight into this generation. Asking about fears and concerns, Carolyn noted responses reflecting wider issues in society, anchoring the project to a moment in time. Responses recorded in 2014/15 encompassed worries about hunger, homelessness, loss and war. Throughout 2019, the girls expressed anxiety about the world and environment. In her final portrait, taken in February 2020, Carolyn met Lottie, who shared her growing fears over the then widely-underestimated coronavirus.

Carolyn says: “This work is my way of exploring the lives of these girls, giving them power and allowing their voices to be heard. It is celebrating the beauty that is wholly them, one that is sometimes concealed in silence, attitude, embarrassment and self-consciousness.”

* Girl Power is funded by Bradford Council, Bradford UNESCO City of Film and Bradford 2025 as part of their Make Film programme, and supported by Arts Council England. To watch the film or see the exhibition go to impressions-gallery.com

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