History KS2: Dennis Morris - Becoming a photographer

This short film tells the story of Dennis Morris, a well-known photographer from London, originally from Jamaica, who photographed famous musicians including Bob Marley.

He is interviewed by 10-year-old Naomi, also with Jamaican roots. As well as a shared culture, Naomi also shares a passion for photography with Dennis and spends her time using her camera to capture the culture and history of her local community.

Naomi listens to Dennis’ story and learns what it was like to have clear aspirations as a child and the journey he went on to realise his dreams.

Dennis shares stories of his life as a photographer and how it led him to work with some famous musicians including Bob Marley.

This short film is from the BBC Teach series, Black British Stories.

Teacher Notes

Before watching the film

You may want to discuss the Windrush Generation and why many people came over to Britain from the West Indies between 1948 and 1973. Explain that some people came over as Britain was looking to rebuild its economy and needed people to fill particular jobs. You could locate the West Indies on a map and discuss what it would have been like to move from that part of the world to Britain as a child.

You may also wish to explain the Windrush scandal, which broke in April 2018, and saw the UK government apologise for deportation threats made to Commonwealth citizens' children. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many were told they were there illegally because of a lack of official paperwork. Please note, pupils and their parents may be descendants of the Windrush Generation and may have been affected by the Windrush scandal. Preparation for pupils with these lived experiences should be considered.

You may want to look at history and how it is represented. Ask the pupils to think about how they know about the past. Where do they get their information from?

Discuss how photography plays an extremely important role in documenting the past and we can learn a great deal about events and people from photographs that have been taken. You may want to use a few examples of historical photographs and contemporary images to emphasise your point. If there are historic photographs available of their town or school, this would make it even more relevant.

Please note that discussions on immigration should be treated with sensitivity and approached with particular care if there are pupils in the class who are refugees or asylum seekers. As part of your preparation, you may also find it helpful to consider how to manage discussion of topics such as identity, heritage, interracial relationships and skin tone with the pupils in your class.

Questions to consider

Depending on the focus of your lesson, you may wish to pause this short film at certain points to check for understanding, asking questions such as:

  • How do you think you can capture a culture in a photograph?
  • What do you think it felt like to move from Jamaica to Britain as a black child in the 1960s?
  • Why do you feel Dennis did not feel as shy with a camera in his hand?
  • How do you think it felt for Dennis, not having his family or friends understanding his dream of being a photographer?
  • How do you think it felt being spoken to by Bob Marley or another iconic person as a teenager?
  • What do you think Dennis told Bob Marley when he asked him what it was like being a young black kid in London?
  • How do you think it felt leaving with Bob Marley and the Wailers the next day?
  • What are your dreams or passions?

Activities to further explore learning

  • Capturing a culture

This is a good opportunity to talk about the stories that pictures can tell. In the film, both Dennis and Naomi use their cameras to capture images of their culture. This would need to be approached with sensitivity, but you could work with pupils to explore their own culture, using headings such as food, music, art, literature and dance, as well as any others the class come up. Pupils might explore which aspects of their culture are important to them and, if appropriate, they could document their culture either outside or inside school through a series of photographs.

  • Capturing history

Dennis’s pictures of Bob Marley and other artists have become iconic and an important part of musical history. He has also published a book documenting what it was like growing up as a black child in in London through a series of photographs. Pupils could reflect on the current world around them and decide which events would be useful or essential to document through photography or other artistic medium (e.g. writing, painting, drawing, digital), and why. This could be themed around 'what school is like in the 21st century', or other important events that take place in their local community. Challenge pupils to take a photograph and write a caption documenting history.

  • Exploring culture through music

Introduce pupils to the idea of cultural music. Pupils can be introduced to reggae music and its origins or another cultural, musical tradition. Challenge pupils to research this type of music and write a non-chronological report or information page.

  • Aspirations

In the film, pupils are told to, “Dream big. To stand up for themselves even if others do not believe in you, it is enough to believe in yourself.” Challenge pupils to think about their own strengths and passions. Pupils can draw an outline of their silhouette and then write or draw different things they have thought of inside their heads.

  • Photographers and their work

This film could provide pupils with an excellent gateway to exploring the work of other black photographers and artists.

Key Vocabulary

  • Community - A group of people living in a particular area.
  • Culture - A pattern of behaviour shared by a society, or group of people.
  • Discrimination - The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.
  • Diversity - Differences in racial and ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic, and academic backgrounds.
  • Iconic - Widely known and acknowledged, especially for distinctive excellence.
  • Immigrant - A person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.
  • Immigration - The process of moving to a new country, with plans to live there permanently.
  • Prejudice - A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
  • Racism - The belief that people of different races or ethnic groups have different value in society, and using this against them.
  • Trailblazer - A person who is the first to do something; an innovator.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching KS2 / 2nd level pupils and links to various areas of the curriculum including history (black history) and personal, social and relationships education (community, culture and aspiration). The focus on photography and music also allows teachers to make links with those areas of the curriculum.

Community and culture
The film raises questions about the different people that make up their community and the elements of different cultures that are present.

British values
In the film Dennis says that Bob Marley asked him what is was like being a black boy in Britain. The film raises questions about what it means to be British and how diverse Britain has become.

The film opens up questions about following passions and opening up possibilities for future careers.

More from Black British Stories

Mac Williams - Working in the coal mining industry
Alison Bennison - Working as a NHS nurse
Christina Shingler - Becoming an author of children's literature
David Mwanaka - Becoming a farmer in Britain
Elsie Owusu - Becoming an architect in Britain
Eunice Olumide - Breaking into the fashion business
Magid Magid - Becoming the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Sheffield
Vernon Samuels - The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963
Yesha Townsend - A Bermudian poet in London