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Photographing Minuatures

Photographing Minuatures

Main Subject: Lesson Plans

Subject: Personalised Learning

Author: Teach Primary

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Using only a pine cone and a Sherbet Dip Dab, pupils can create a fantastical world for a cast of tiny characters – and then imagine how they got there, says Jane Hewitt...

The world of ‘little people’ is fascinating because it only comes alive when you create it. The figures themselves are actually intended for model railways and are approximately 1 cm high. You can purchase them online – you just need to search for ‘Preiser figures’.

These come in different sizes, so it is important to order figures that are 1:87 in scale (the others are too tiny to work with). You can purchase completed figures or plain figures to paint or adapt as you wish. They vary in price from £4 for an individual figure with props to about £10 for a set of decorators or climbers.

A note of caution: not all the figures are suitable for use in the classroom (e.g. topless sunbathers). Also, some of the images in the books mentioned below are not age-appropriate for younger classes.

Starter activity

In order to gain an idea of how these ‘little people’ can be photographed, have a look at Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu (Boxtree, 2008). He creates ‘miniature dramas’ on city streets and then photographs his work. He then leaves the scenes on the street for people to find.

The figures are cleverly integrated into their surroundings and everyday objects are incorporated: two workmen are carrying a Wotsit as if it’s a girder or heavy object; a lifeboat is floating in what looks like a lake but is in fact a puddle.

Many of his dramas look as though they are making a statement about society today – such as the use of litter – and there has been some debate as to whether it’s art at all. You decide – but it is thought-provoking.

How can we translate ‘little people’ art for the classroom setting? First, you could introduce images from the growing number of artists and photographers who are working with ‘little people’. In addition to Slinkachu, you could also look up:

* Christopher Boffoli – who produces photographs of little people using food as their environment (

* Audrey Heller – there are a range of images on her Facebook page ( audreyhellerfan)

If you’ve ordered some of these figures, place a couple around the room but don’t draw attention to them – it is highly unlikely that the pupils will notice them at first. After you have shown them some ‘little people’ artwork and / or when you draw their attention to them, you will get a ‘light bulb moment’ or collective gasp when pupils appreciate how small these figures actually are. They will then be hooked and clamouring to hold them and have a closer look.

The figures themselves are secondary to the creativity that they unleash in pupils. If we are going to create worlds for them to inhabit as the focus of our photography, we need to think about backdrops for the images.

Main activities

* Setting the scene

As the figures are so tiny, they can be positioned with everyday objects to give a surreal feel to photographs – like these miniature painters with a tulip (see image 1). By thinking carefully about backgrounds, you can emphasise the difference in scale.

Pupils are really creative when given freedom. The photograph to the right (image 2) was created using a pine cone and a Sherbet Dip Dab!

You can experiment using Plasticine, Fimo, modelling clay or home-made salt dough. Create your own props – such as chairs, rocks, trees or even whole scenes. You can take toy cars and smash them up to create crime scenes or make use of everyday objects, such as biscuits, cameras, tea cups – anything! Use sand for roads, pull flowers to pieces, use food or toys. The only limit is your imagination.

Here is a list of things you may wish to consider:

* Scale is important – in order to introduce a sense of their actual size, we need to incorporate recognisable everyday objects.

* Will we source props or make our own?

* Will the figures be in a natural setting or in one that we have created with our images (drawn / photographed or sourced from books or the Internet)?

* The figures do not always stand up on their own – how will we overcome this?

* Create a character

In order to develop this into a joint photography and literacy project, introduce the idea of the ‘little people’ as actual characters and allow pupils to choose their own ‘person’. This should be done in groups or pairs (always together – this is a collaborative activity where pupils need to discuss and develop their ideas). You can give the pupils some prompts or ideas that they might want to think about, or you can simply leave this completely open ended. Here are some characteristics pupils could consider: name, age, where they live, job, friends, favourite saying, secret, likes / dislikes, possessions, problems.

Basically, you’re just trying to get pupils to be creative. With some groups, you may want to model this and create a ‘story’ for one of your own characters.

Here is an example for Gladys, who is the homeless figure in the image opposite (image 3) pushing a trolley.


Problem. A problem she has to face is dealing with the cold; her coat is now very thin and her boots have holes in them.

Likes and dislikes. She doesn’t like the people who make fun of her – especially that group of teenagers who shout at her whenever she passes them. She loves chocolate but can’t remember when she last had some.

Home. Gladys is homeless and wanders around the streets. She carries all of her belongings in a supermarket trolley, which is beginning to rust.

Possessions. Her most treasured possession is a tatty old photograph album. It has black and white photographs of two young boys.

Friends. She doesn’t have any real friends, although she does speak to Bert sometimes when she passes his bench.

Favourite saying. “I wish I could turn the clock back”

House. She sleeps where she can – sometimes under the bridge near the canal but with the recent floods it’s now too soggy, so she has to sleep in the park – she doesn’t like this much because she doesn’t feel safe there.

Her secret. She had a really important job but made a mistake and lost lots of money – her family do not know where she is, although they have searched.

In this case, I have deliberately left gaps and hooks to allow pupils to ask questions (see the ‘Useful questions’ box for examples).

Once the pupils understand her background and have some idea of her story, they can then write and create the scenes for a storybook about Gladys.

Extending the lesson

* Draw a map of where Gladys goes in the town – label key areas, photograph this and add to your storybook.

* Identify her sleeping area then photograph the figure in situ.

* Write a diary extract of Gladys’s day.

* Write a letter to Gladys from her family.

* Write or film a dialogue between Gladys and Bert.

* Research life on the streets, the Big Issue and what help is available for homeless people. Turn this into a poster using an app such as Phoster.

Useful questions

* Who are the two young boys in the photograph?

* How long have you been living on the streets?

* Do you miss your family?

* Why don’t you contact your family?

* What is in your trolley?

* What job did you used to do?

This lesson is an edited extract from Learning through a lens: it’s all about photography (Independent Thinking Press, 2014). In this brilliant book by professional photographer and experienced teacher, Jane Hewitt, teachers will find many ideas that – just like the ‘little people’ activities in this article – provide rich cross-curricular opportunities based on arresting and thought- provoking imagery.

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