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Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits, 1996

December 17, 2011
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish Chris Kelly‘s portraits of an entire class at Columbia Primary School, Columbia Rd, Bethnal Green. Distinguished by extraordinary presence and insight, these tender pictures taken fifteen years ago are the outcome of a unique collaboration between the photographer and the schoolchildren. Chris has been taking photographs for education and health services, and voluntary organisations in the East End for almost twenty years, and these astonishing timeless portraits illustrate just one aspect of the work of this fascinating photographer.

I like myself because I am smart and cool and my name is Rufus and Rufus means red one and I really like to play with my friends.

My name is Abdul. I am eight years old. I was born in 7.10.88 and I like trainers called keebok classic.

When I grow up I want to be a singer and travel around the world. My name is Jay and I am eight years old.

My name is Imran. I am eight years old. I like going to school. I like drawing. My sister Happy gives me sweets.

Hello my name is Salma and I was born in 1988. I am eight years old. I like to go to Bangladesh. At school I like Art. I go to Columbia Primary School. And my teachers name is Lucy.

I like myself because I am smart and cool. My name is Ibrahim. My age is eight years old.

My name is Jamal. I go to Columbia School and I am eight years old. I enjoy reading and art and the new book bags. I am special because there are no other people like me.

I’m eight. I like to play. My mummy loves me. My name is Shumin.

I am special because I am good at reading and maths. I am good at running. I am eight years old and I am year three. My address is London E2. My best friend is Rokib. My name is Kamal.

My name is Kamal Miah. I like chocolate cake with chocolate custard. I love computers at home. I learn at Columbia School. Before school I drink fizzy drink and I eat chips. My date of birth is 13.10.88. My best chocolate bar is Lion. My best colour is dark blue. I’m good at maths. Speling group is C.

I am eight years old. My name is Nazneen. I like doing maths and I like doing singing. I have three sisters. And I have lots of friends.

My name is Paplue. I like football and I like fried chicken because they give me chicken. I am eight.

My name is Rahima. I was born in October the eleventh. I’m eight years old. I go to Columbia School. I live in number thirty.

My name is Halil. I am eight years old. I like to play with my three game boys. I like to see funny films.

My name is Litha. I like chocolate. I was born in London. I am eight years old. I live in a flat. When I grow up I want to be a hairdresser.

My name is Robert. I am eight years old and I live in London E2. I like where I live because I have lots of friends to play with.

My name is Rajna. I’m good at running. I do writing at home. And I’m the middle sister.

I am eight years old. I go to school. I play in the playground and my name is Dale.

My name is Sadik. I’m eight years old. I am quite good at football. I practise with my uncle.

My name is Rokib, I am eight years old. I am special because I can read and write and I can do maths and I can be thoughtful and helpful.

My name is Shafia. I am eight years old. I have two sisters. My big sister is called Nazia and my baby sister is called Pinky.

My name is Shokar. I like kick boxing and swimming and I like football.

My name is Urmi and I like going to Ravenscroft Park. I have a black bob cut, browny skin and black eyes. I am eight years old.

My name is Wahidul. I am eight years old. My favourite prehistoric animals are dinosaurs and I like reading and science.

My name is Yousuf. I want to be a computer designer. If I want to be a computer designer I have to be an artist as well.

My name is Ferdous. I am eight years old. I go to Columbia School. My favourite thing is playing games. My date of birth is 10.12.88.

My name is Akthar. I like to go to Victoria Park. I am eight years old.

Hello my name is Fahmida. I am eight years old and I was born in 1989. I like to play skipping and Onit. I like going to school. In school I like Art.

I go to play out with my friends. I go to the shops with my mum. I go to my sisters new house. My name is Ashraf and I’m eight years old.

My name is Fateha. I go to school. I like art. I am eight years old. I am lucky that I’ve got a good art teacher.

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly hopes to make contact with the subjects of these pictures again,  now twenty-three years old,  for the purpose of taking a new set of portraits. So, if you were one of these children, please get in touch with

You may also like to take a look at

Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers

Colin O’Brien’s Travellers’ Children in London Fields

12 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    December 17, 2011

    such bright eyes and discerning gazes. i hope they’re all well and that they will get back in touch.

  2. December 17, 2011

    Lovely portraits and loved reading their own captions.

  3. Adrienne permalink
    December 17, 2011

    What wonderful photos.Makes you think, what are they all doing now…are they happy…

  4. andrea permalink
    December 18, 2011

    Gorgeous photos, beautiful faces. Touching.

  5. Bambush permalink
    January 5, 2012

    Nice pictures. Brings back memories.

  6. Ron Pummell permalink
    January 25, 2012

    I attended this school during the wartime, from about 1943 until I left in July 1948. The Headmaster was Mr. Nelson and the teachers names that I remember were Miss Johnston, Miss Doe. Mrs Munns, Miss Clarke, Mr King, Mr Bridle and Mr Norman. Everybodys favourite was Mrs. Smith who handed out the spoonfuls of malt and the daily issue of a third of a pint of milk. Sadly there are no photographs of that period.

    I have memories of some of the shopkeepers in Columbia Road but we will leave that for another day.

    Yet again, well done The Gentle Author.

  7. peter permalink
    January 25, 2012

    you can send me an email with some of your memoris of the area if you feel like it
    thanks pete

  8. John Daltrey permalink
    February 28, 2018

    Fantastic photos of wonderful children at that lovely age with so many ambitions. I attended Columbia Road school fro 1948 til 1955. My Nan ran the fish and chip shop opposite the school and my dad had the shoe-repairers shop opposite the Royal Oak pub. What memories!!!

  9. Fahmida permalink
    March 13, 2018

    Oh my god. I can’t believe this. I’m one of the students above. It’s been 20 years I’m now married expecting my 2nd child. I totally forgot about these pictures. And all my class mates have all got good jobs and some like myself married with children. Can’t wait to show my friends this page. Time really does fly.

  10. Chris permalink
    April 18, 2020

    These photos are great. These Children must be about 32 years old now. I would love to know whether they have achieved the hopes and dreams which they talked about when they were photographed. I wish them all well.

  11. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 21, 2020

    Beautiful portraits (and brilliant captions!)

    I’d love to know who their art teacher was – he or she was obviously very inspirational…

  12. Jamal permalink
    December 17, 2021

    Wow I’m going to be 33 in a months time, this is immensely nostalgic. Good ole days

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