Saturday, 8:00am
1 August 2015

Glory days

Chris Dorley-Brown shows three ages of Colchester youth in 15 Seconds, the Wellcome Collection’s first significant digital art commission

Chris Dorley-Brown’s 15 Seconds: Part 3 is a powerful and entertaining digital artwork about time and growing up.

The project has its genesis in 1994, when several hundred schoolchildren in the British town of Colchester were invited to make a video portraits of themselves. In 15 Seconds: Part 3 we see slowed-down, silent versions of these clips from more than two decades ago. The children, all aged between eight and eleven, variously stare at the camera, pull faces and stick out their tongues. Jo plays the clarinet; Daniel fiddles with an origami bird.

Chris Dorley-Brown, ‘Sarah 1994-2004-2014’, from 15 Seconds part 3. Courtesy the artist.

Sarah 1994-2004-2014

Jacob 1994-2004-2014’.

Jacob 1992-2004-2014

‘Rachael 1994-2004-2014’.

Rachael 1994-2004-2014

In 2004, Dorley-Brown tracked down 26 of the original participants and asked them to talk about themselves on camera. He followed up ten years later, like a miniature version of Michael Apted’s celebrated television documentary Seven Up (first broadcast in 1964).

The resulting work is a series of fascinating video portraits presented in a website designed and developed by Danielle Huntrods and Danny Birchall. Each video triptych (one for each participant) in the digital online artwork plays simultaneously, but each clip can be paused and played by the viewer. 15 Seconds: Part 3 is the first significant digital art commission by the Wellcome Collection.

Chris Dorley-Brown, ‘Sam 1994-2004-2014’, from 15 Seconds part 3. Courtesy the artist.


In the portraits, subjects reflect on their younger selves. In 2004, teenager Sam says: ‘Apart from the size of my hair, I think before I speak. I was told that in every report, “think before you speak”. That and not to talk as much, but that hasn’t stopped.’

‘Craig 1994-2004-2014’.

Craig G 1994-2004-2014

‘Calista 1994-2004-2014’.


In 2014, Calista says: ‘As a person, I think I’ve understood that the be-all and end-all to my life personally is my family and my friends, and that everything else in between didn’t matter. I know that now, I didn’t know that then. You were so concerned with what people thought of you. Not so much now.’

‘Essex Indexicals’, a poetic essay by novelist Tony White that accompanies 15 Seconds captures the tone of the participants’ reflections on life and the passing of time:

‘A very different time. After university. At college. At primary school. At the minute. At the University of Essex. At uni. At university. I always tried to do my best. I am loyal and I help people. I can see things from a different side. I can’t really think of anything dramatic. I decided not to go back and do it. I did a lot better at grades than I expected and now I’m screwing up at A-Levels. I didn’t expect to do that. I didn’t have all the commitments I have now.’

Digital online artwork 15 Seconds: Part 3 by Chris Dorley-Brown, the first significant digital art commission by the Wellcome Collection.


Chris Dorley-Brown’s new photobook book Drivers in the 1980s is published by Hoxton Mini Press. See Roger Browning’s review ‘Stuck in the middle of Thatcherism’ on the Eye blog.

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