This book is unique. It is a coffee table book, described as an art book by the publishers, but it is also a serious text about meeting the needs of ten children in a children’s home. It is a pedagogical text book but it reads like poetry. It is three-quarters pictures, but they are indispensable and tell their own story. It is expensive, but it is worth every penny. As I said, it is unique.
Miina Savolainen, the author, is also a photographer, and she has worked for many years as a social educator in a children’s home in Finland. (The book is in Finnish, but with a parallel translation in excellent English, and the pictures of course need no translation.)
In 1998 she started a project, which she continued over ten years. It so happened that there were ten girls in the children’s home at that time, and so the book focuses on girls; hence its title.
The aim of the project was first to build up the girls’ trust in Miina. The relationship between photographer and subject was different from that of child care worker and child in a children’s home. The children had control over how they wanted to be seen. Miina’s role was to take the pictures and try to help each individual in their own way to look good, to look beautiful, to become a princess.
Over time, the girls gained confidence. They enjoyed the individual attention. The photographs made them look good, and enhanced their self-images. Given the increased self-confidence they were able to look at themselves – both at the images they projected and at their inner selves.
Eventually, when the project ended, the photographs were made into a display, of which the girls and their parents were proud.
So, despite the title, the book is a pedagogic text book which describes the use of photography as a therapeutic and pedagogic method of relating to children and working on the things that matter to them. The project description spells out the process and the outcome.
It is a good example of the use of activities in social pedagogy as a means of forming relationships between social pedagogues and children. For a start it focuses on the positives, rather than being problem-orientated, offering individual attention, a pleasurable activity and a rewarding outcome. This is a good way of developing good working relationships. In the longer run it is also a means of creating a situation in which child and social pedagogue can work together on the child’s deeper problems at a time of the child’s choosing.
No doubt it will encourage others to take up the idea, and in Finland there are training courses. (In passing, it is worth noting the really excellent quality of service that can be provided in a children’s home. So let’s consign to the bin the image still prevalent in some quarters in the UK that residential care has to be considered harmful.)
The book is also poetry, both in the cadences of the language and the way the reader is taken through the thought processes of the people involved. The design is beautiful, creating a gorgeous setting for the photographs. The pictures of the girls are perhaps the most moving part of the book. A bunch of ten girls have been turned into princesses, but this process has not been some trite makeover for television. It has been part of a pedagogic programme, designed to help the girls come to terms with themselves. The real change is not the clothes and beautiful settings but what has happened within the girls themselves.
And the price? At 48 Euros, it is expensive, but the price is not excessive for this sort of art book and the quality of production. It costs a lot less than going to a conference, and if it sparks off a new project for a residential child care worker, or if a child in care reads it and picks up something of the message, it will have proved its worth. It’s unique.
Savolainen, Miina (2008) Maailman Ihanin Tytto (The Loveliest Girl in the World)
Blink Entertainment, Helsinki
The book is not available through bookshops, but has to be ordered by email from Finland: firstname.lastname@example.org . The book costs 48 Euros, plus shipping, though bulk purchases are cheaper. Please email the publisher for details.