Tearsheet Microsoft Office 2010

Back to school means not only teachers getting busy, but the Marketing Departments tapping into that fresh copybook feeling. But what of the photography?  How is education looking? It’s looking like ‘naturalism’

Remember Michelle Pfeiffer playing former marine as teacher in tough inner city school in Dangerous Days? “Walking through the valley of the shadow of death” accompanied by Coolio? Or Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society seizing the day?

While Hollywood reserves the right to make schooldays feel like an emotional expressway for their audience of young cinemagoers, advertisers try and make school feel sensible because it’s mom and dad, not the kids, who are coughing up the dough for new clothes and stationery.

Among this year’s crop of fresh faces is Microsoft selling their Office 2010 with it’s ‘collaborative’ take on learning.  “Start the year with the power to work together”, which is a strong message, but feels a little like McKinsey, a management guru, rather than an inspirational Robin Williams. No “Seize the Day” drama here, and the truth is, education is more pragmatic in real life.

Equally, while some parents may heark back to an imaginary good old fashioned ideal of how their kids should be taught, learning by memory, repetition, the fact is they don’t want pictures of that. They want images of keen, organized, independent children.

Like the one in the photo above. The child and teacher literally share the work, but thankfully the young girl isn’t too keen, as she shares a smile with her classmate.

Style? There is only one word for it – Naturalism. This naturalistic photo whose realism is softened by the skin tones and the straw-coloured hair of the schoolgirl blending with the background. ‘Authenticity’, a much favoured word among advertisers, is a little too heavy and loaded a word for this kind of image which works because of it’s simplicity and lightness – its naturalism.

Take a look below at some work that echoes the tone and content of the Microsoft Ad, and we’ll be returning to this subject matter in the coming weeks.

Image Source RF / Gary John Norman

Less studious image by Gary John Norman, but captures that occasionally spontaneous ‘giddiness’ of school days.

Image Source / Royalty Free

‘Naturalism’ in background detail, mix of attention and distraction by models, just like learning always is.

Royalty Free / Fancy

Classic college image, transforming the often harsh college strip lighting feel warm. Education images are about ‘finding out’, ‘discovery’. Again, naturalistic appeal, however what makes this image interesting is whether in the age of social networking and Facebook, this classic shot of the student at the noticeboard would no longer feel ‘natural’? It’s appeal, and it would still have great appeal, may in fact lie in the fact it would feel ‘retro’.

Image Source / Sonya Farrell

Were children really designed to be kept on their seats, quiet, in a classroom for 6 hours a day?  This photo by Sonya Farrell captures that moment of release, the pent-up energy, like removing the lid from a bottle of Pop/Soda. Everything is ‘escaping’, the children in a line towards the left of the frame, and the railings ‘escaping’ on the right. What’s more, it’s an image that functions beyond education, as it too pushes nostalgia buttons and its message of ‘escape’, ‘joy’ and ‘excitement’ sits easily with any number of campaigns.


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