“There are hundreds of different images of the child. Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child.”
from “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins” by Loris Malaguzzi, comments translated and adapted from a seminar presented in Reggio Emilia, June 1993.
Loris Malaguzzi was a professor and founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, a model for early childhood education, first in Italy then worldwide, where children are given the tools to learn through their own paths of discovery.
In the autumn of 2017, the creative agency “Studio Blanco” in Reggio Emilia, invited photographer Jason Fulford to engage with the ateliers of Reggio Children (Fondazione Reggio Children – Centro Loris Malaguzzi). “The Medium is a Mess” is the result of Fulford’s experience of the experimental methods of this educational approach. The description of the book tells us that the pictures were not only made in Reggio Emilia but also in other parts of the world, from Japan to Korea, passing through the United States. Despite these geographical variations, the images in the book blend seamlessly, and the viewer is completely absorbed by the repetitions and accumulations of portraits, shapes, and colors. In a certain sense, the book resembles the Reggio Approach, and the open way of learning by experiencing objects, events, and relationships that these schools propose. On the other hand, the flow of the book is particularly close to Fulford’s photographic practice and his visual imagination. At the end of the book, he reports: “I once met Temple Grandin, a brilliant scholar and teacher who has autism. She asked me what came to mind when she uttered the word “steeple.” I said that I saw a long white triangle poking out of green treetops, as if looking down at a town. She said, “You think in pictures.” She has a theory that people either think in words or pictures. Someone who thinks in words might have said “people” or “church.”
“The Medium is a Mess” is an attempt to combine Fulford’s vision and the way children experience the world, a bit messy but full of creativity, often found within the everyday. Boring objects become incredible ready-made sculptures, lights and color reflections become abstract paintings. Every object, and therefore every image in this book, is there to stimulate the brain to think and learn, to accumulate information, to enrich the process of making things and experiencing them. Learning should not be a series of empty notions.
Fulford gives us a similar learning experience with another book, made in collaboration with Tamara Shopsin. The book is “This Equals That,” published by Aperture in 2014. “This Equals That” as the publisher said, “takes young viewers on a whimsical journey while teaching them associative thinking and visual language, as well as colors, shapes, and numbers.” In a similar way “The Medium is a Mess” takes us to a comparable path but gives us also space to understand children’s assimilation of new information and experiences. The Reggio Approach is not only directed to children but also to adults. This approach motivates the adult to be, in fact, a creator of relationships, not only between people but also between things, thoughts and the environment, as Loris Malaguzzi says in the essay “Your image of the Child.”
“The Medium is a Mess” exposes these connections between the eye of the child and that of the photographer/adult, creator of intriguing and stimulating relationships between things in the world. It’s now the viewer’s turn to learn and enjoy this book as a constant sequence of discoveries.