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Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits

March 28, 2018
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 twenty-three years ago in 1996 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 thirty 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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    March 28, 2018

    Oh they are all so lovely!
    The texts are all great too.
    Great project.

  2. Pennie Limming permalink
    March 28, 2018

    What an amazing set of photographs. As I looked through, I was wondering what they were doing now so thought it good to see that there will, hopefully, be the follow-up. One little girl looks really sad. Was intrigued to see how each defined themselves.

  3. Sharon permalink
    March 28, 2018

    My first thought on scrolling through these photos was “I wonder where they are now?” I hope they fulfilled their hopes and ambitions..
    It will be interesting to see how many of these enigmatic-looking children Chris manages to catch up with. I look forward to seeing the new portraits.

  4. Greta Kelly permalink
    March 28, 2018

    As I was scrolling down, I kept wondering if these children had fulfilled their hopes and dreams. Delighted to read, as reached the end, that the photographer intends to try and contact them. Perhaps a group of interested people could get involved as it seems like a lot of work would be needed.

  5. Richard Smith permalink
    March 28, 2018

    Like others one cannot help but wonder how life has turned out for the children. I hope, above all that they are happy and enjoying their life.

  6. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    March 28, 2018

    I hope that Chris Kelly will reconnect with some of these (former) children; looking at their faces I think I see glimpses of the adults they must have become — all that potential is so beautiful!

  7. Annie S permalink
    March 28, 2018

    Great photographs – those ‘children’ will be 30!
    As I’m sure everyone else has said – would be interesting to find out what they’re doing now.

  8. Sue permalink
    March 28, 2018

    Wonderful portraits. If only all “school” photos could be like this.

  9. Catherine Morris permalink
    March 28, 2018

    Each portrait is just glorious. I love the economic text that defines each special little person

  10. Teresa Clarkson permalink
    March 30, 2018

    how amazing….like going back in time. I am so emotional at the moment! I taught at Columbia Primary school in 1996 and knew all of these children. I will share this on the Columbia Primary school facebook page. Wonderful!

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 30, 2018

    Beautiful images, and I love the childrens’ comments. I also love Teresa’s comment above. I look forward to the chance of seeing them 30 years on….

  12. Simon Clarkson permalink
    March 30, 2018

    I also taught at Columbia Primary at this time and remember these students just as they are in the wonderful photographs. Chris has captured their personalities beautifully and I can’t wait to see the updates and find out what these children are now doing as adults. Loved reading how they described themselves.

  13. Amina k permalink
    September 21, 2019

    Aww I can see my sister on here. They all look so young and innocent!

  14. Fahmida Khatun permalink
    September 21, 2019

    Erm… don’t know how to start but oh my God. I never knew my picture was up on this until Teresa posted it on Facebook. I remember taking these pictures in year 3. How times flies. Yes I’m 30 now. I have been married for 8 and half years and have 2 boys. I still like to do drawing with my son now. ?. I am still in contact with some of my classmates who like myself also have children of their own and some work and some are homemakers. Anyways just thought ill drop a message here.

  15. Shahnaz permalink
    September 21, 2019

    Oh wow I am in absolute awe!
    These children were a year below me.
    I was hoping to stumble across pictures of pupils from my class.
    I remember majority of these kids (well adults now!) as we all still residing in East London.

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