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Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits, 1996

December 13, 2022
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 a quarter of a century 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 thirty 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 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

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Ann Vosper permalink
    December 13, 2022

    I love this post. I do hope that Chris Kelly can make contact with some or all of these children so they can bring their stories up to date. Did Litha become a hairdresser, did Yousuf become a computer designer? How lovely that Shumin knows that her mummy loves her.

  2. December 13, 2022

    Great photos. The children’s bios are so sweet. I am reminded of my own son, one year older than this cohort. He still sees his old primary school friends, not uncommon on a small satilite town. I really hope the children see this and make contact with the photographer.

  3. Andy permalink
    December 13, 2022

    Such honesty.
    Where does it go wrong and become politicians?

  4. Mark permalink
    December 13, 2022

    I worked professionally as a photographer for a while (Got my city in guilds in portraiture a long time ago now)
    Really great photographs, captured the essence of the children, great work.

    Thank you


  5. December 13, 2022

    Isn’t that amazing? Very self-confident, these children look into the camera and the world. And they don’t overstate it when they say, “I’m smart and cool!” — What else can you wish them but all the love and the good for their lives.

    Love & Peace

  6. December 13, 2022

    These are lovely tender portraits – I want to know what happens to these children, so look forward to Chris’s next chapter…

  7. Mary permalink
    December 13, 2022

    What wonderful photographs from Chris. He has managed to capture the characters of the children, so unlike the standard school photos. The little bios are so touching. I hope that the children thrived, attained their dreams and are happy.
    I wish Chris good luck in his ongoing project. Please keep us updated G.A.

  8. Mary Gillender permalink
    December 13, 2022

    These are amazing portraits. Every child is fully present, and clearly the photographer made them feel safe and relaxed. What a contrast to the strained faces normally seen on school photos.

    I would really love to see these subjects as they are today. Good luck Chris!

  9. Marcia Howard permalink
    December 13, 2022

    Wonderful photos, and oh, all those beautiful eyes …..

  10. December 13, 2022

    Turn up the volume…………..and sing along with me (and Rod Stewart)

    “May the good Lord be with you
    Down every road you roam
    And may sunshine and happiness
    Surround you when you’re far from home
    And may you grow to be proud
    Dignified & true
    And do unto others as you’d have done to you
    Be courageous and be brave
    And in my heart, you’ll always stay
    Forever young. ”

    Thank you for this magnificent array of photos. Can’t wait to see more from Chris Kelly and
    these forever-young people.

  11. Derek Complin permalink
    December 13, 2022

    I do hope Chris Kelly achieves his wish.
    Viewing these eight year olds, reading their personal comments, one can only wonder where they all are today.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 13, 2022

    Yes – what a brilliant set of photos!

    And I’d also like to know what happened to all the children… It was fascinating reading the life stories of the Spitalfields Nippers and it would be great if the same could be done with this set of kids.

    I hope their dreams came true.

  13. Jane permalink
    December 13, 2022

    This is such a touching set of photographs and self-descriptions. And quite heart-breaking too when we think of the ways in which many children’s lives have been let down by our society in recent years. It’s so important to have records like this. Thank you Chris Kelly and GA.

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