While volunteering in a fourth grade reading class in the United States, Judy Gelles found many of the students couldn’t relate to the stories they were assigned to study. To help get the children more interested in reading, Gelles had the idea to ask each of the 9 and 10 year old students to tell her their own stories. Gelles took it upon herself to write down all of their individual stories before reading them back to the children.
Gelles was intrigued almost instantly by the touching, and often sorrowful stories the children would candidly explain. Already an established photographer, Gelles was driven to share the poignant memoirs of modern childhood the most impactful way that she could. Thus, Fourth Grade was born. A five year long photography project that would take Gelles to classrooms across the US, India, China, Korea, and England, meeting with fourth graders and asking them all the same three questions:
Who do you live with?
What are your wishes?
And what do you worry about?
She would sit with each of the children, over 200 of them were interviewed for the project, and speak with them for roughly half an hour. She notes the children, regardless of location, were all very enthusiastic to have an adult to interact with for an extended period time. She would take the conversations and pick out the most telling parts, attaching them to the child’s portrait–in all of which the children’s faces were not shown.
Making sure to visit a wide range of schools, from opulent suburban private schools to lower-income schools consisting mostly of immigrant children. Variety was a key aspect of the project’s bigger picture. The result is a collection of images which Gelles describes as a “social justice project”. Take a look at some of the images below, before you head over to her website where you can learn more about the project and see more photos from Fourth Grade.