For the past six years photographer David Chang has been documenting the annual growth of 70 Sheffield children from birth.
The results are currently on view in an exhibition at the Montgomery which marks the culmination of his ambitious undertaking which he has called The Me Project.
The idea was to photograph as many new born babies volunteered by their parents as he could find and then return each year around their birthdays to picture them again.
But what makes them special is that in each photograph the child is holding the image from the previous year which in turn shows them holding the previous portrait and so linking back to the beginning.
The journey actually began back in 2006 when David took a photo of Niamh Boulding, the daughter of a friend when she was only one week old.
“Each year, at around her birthday, I took one picture of her holding the picture taken from the previous year. By the time Niamh was five years old in 2011 you could not only see how her physical look changes during the year, but also her personality grows,” he says.
And 2011 was the year David and his wife Fresa’s first child was born, Geo, whom they call Yang-Yang which translates from Mandarin as Ocean, Ocean.
“Fresa said to me why don’t you make your idea into a bigger and wider photographic project and get more people involved by seeking volunteers with new babies?”
The parents groups the couple found themselves attending proved a useful source and he also used local and social media to spread the word.
In the end he had to close on 70 participants which has produced 376 photographs for the exhibition and the accompanying book. Most were born in 2011/12 but he found it difficult to refuse parents who wanted a younger sibling to be included, not least when his own daughter arrived in 2013, the youngest to be included.
“As the photographer’s son, Geo had no choice but to be one of the volunteers. And as the photographer is the father of the child I had access to the delivery room and took Geo’s picture when he was only about five minutes old. Hannah’s was taken even earlier, at about one minute,” says the man from Taiwan who came to Sheffield in 1995 to study architecture.
Photographing babies wasn’t easy, he reflects, having to be there at just the right time when they weren’t asleep or crying.
Not that it was plain sailing after that. “The British expression, the terrible twos, is very apt. It was difficult to get some of them to concentrate and stay still,” he recalls .
By then too he needed to attach the prints to a foam board so a very young child could hold them which was a costly factor in the self-funded project.
There are 300 foam boards in his office, many with teeth marks or damaged corners or with drawing on the back to attract their attention. These are evidence of the stories and histories that will be associated with the child forever.”
The photos in The Me Project are accompanied by comments from the parents, all of them marvelling at a wonderful record of their child’s early years. Many would love it to continue but David doesn’t have the resources to do so. “It can’t go on forever,” says Dave, or Erhu Dave as he is known in Sheffield music circles after the ‘Chinese violin’ he plays in local band Johnny and the Prison Didn’t Help Boys.
The Me Project continues at The Montgomery, Surrey Street, until June 30.