©Judy Gelles // “Be Murdered” Fourth Grader, South Africa


Judy Gelles

The Story behind the Portrait

Fourth Graders from around the world answer three questions:

  • Who do you live with?
  • What do you wish for?
  • What do you worry about?

I began the Fourth Grade Project in 2008 from a prototype born during my volunteer work at a Philadelphia inner-city school not far from where I live. Over the past eight years I have interviewed and photographed over 300 fourth grade students from the USA, China, India, Italy, England, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, South Africa, and South Korea.

In the photos, each child faces away from the camera, allowing him or her to remain anonymous while capturing an easily recognized individuality. Told in their own words, their stories touch on common human experiences and urgent social issues. A notable commonality across all schools is that every group of fourth-graders has very little contact with or knowledge of people from cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds different than their own.

Through personal stories, fourth graders learn to embrace the other in order to create a more peaceful and just world.

This image is currently in the 2016 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibition


Judy Gelles received her MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and her Masters in Counseling from the University of Miami. Her work is in major collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

She has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Visual Studies Workshop, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Her work has been featured in Ms. Magazine; Vision Magazine, Beijing, China; Camerawork; New Art Examiner; Artweek and Photography Now. She is represented by Pentimenti Gallery Philadelphia, and DeSoto Gallery Los Angeles.