When you were young

What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘childhood’? A funny memory? A family ritual? Or maybe a favourite toy or birthday outing?

We’ve been exploring the theme of childhood in our photography exhibition When We Were Young at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It’s proving a very popular exhibition that’s inspiring visitors of all ages to share their personal stories and sketches about their own childhood in the comments books in the gallery. The comments got us thinking: wouldn’t it be great to take the conversation beyond the gallery walls, and to see the family album snapshots that go with those childhood stories? 

We’re looking for photos that represent childhood to you. You could choose a funny or striking image, one that makes you feel nostalgic, makes you smile or just stands out as an important part of growing up. And we want to hear the story that goes with the picture.

Joseph McKenzie, Fall from Grace
Unknown, Portrait of a Young Girl


Share your images and stories on Instagram using #NGSWeWereYoung. We will select favourites and share through our Instagram account, creating a selection that is a fitting compliment to the works that make up When We Were Young.


We asked colleagues across the National Galleries of Scotland to share their childhood images and stories too. Here are a few of our favourites:


Annie Lyden (Curator of When We Were Young)

As demonstrated in the exhibition, When We Were Young, childhood is for all of us a universal experience, but one highly shaped by when and where we were born. When my younger sister was born I was very excited to become a big sister. This photograph was made on her christening day and although her name is Claire, for some unknown reason I insisted on calling her Barney. We were seated with our granda, whose fashion sense was certainly unique with his tie-outside-the-jumper look.

Claire Gibson (Finance)

This is a picture of me with my wee sister (Mel Gibson). I always laugh at this pic because we used to stand behind the curtains and come out in front of it to perform some sort of show, whether the “audience” wanted it or not. It sums me and my sister up 100%: she is all nicely made up and looks prim and proper, whilst I’m a riot in the background, bruised legs, mischievous smile, wearing a skirt as a dress, standing on one leg… just generally showing off.

Gemma Forrest (Development)

This is me with my paternal grandparents. I spent many a great weekend at their house in Kirkcaldy as a child. My grandpa was an art teacher and my gran was a home economics teacher so there was always some sort of arts and crafts project happening, from making costumes and dolls clothes to doing pottery and weaving tartan scarfs. This is me and my amazing bat outfit which we made for Halloween one year. The head was made from wire and I can remember my grandpa moulding the wire to fit my wee head, it was quite heavy. When Halloween came my mum had bought a new black leotard and tights for me to wear underneath to give the full effect, however I absolutely insisted on wearing with it my new hand-me-down brown ‘pixie’ boots from my older cousin which I thought were the coolest thing EVER, even though they ruined the effect and looked rather daft!

Sally-Ann Coxon (Registrars)

I’m about 12 in the photo, I think, and fully embracing the 80s. I look so pleased with myself in my matching acid colours! I really remember wanting to wear that outfit everywhere and my best friend wore something similar. I dreamt of living somewhere big, noisy and exciting like London. At least I looked the part whilst hanging around our Derbyshire village…

Estafania Villar Bibian (Information Desk)

This picture was taken in 1978 in Santander, Spain. My mum always had a strong sense of fashion and enjoyed following the trends. I still remember when platform shoes came out in the 70’s and at first she thought they were the ugliest thing. She quickly changed her mind when she realised how comfortable they were and how much taller they made her look! In this photograph, I’m standing next to her wearing her sunglasses and the same outfit, trying to be cool. It’s not our best photo but it makes me smile.

Eleanor Buffam (Trading Company)

Me, my sister Louise, and my cat Misty. Misty was the best cat who ever walked this earth, and when he was hit by a car not long after this photo was taken I was devastated. Years later I wrote a song about him which was performed by my fifth grade class as part of our musical “It’s not Easy Being a Kid”.

Sheila Perry (Registrars)

This is a picture of me learning to walk at the age of about 9-10 months, with my elephant. It was taken in our garden in Brighton, where we lived until I was about 4 and the sun always shone, in my memory at least! I have been very fond of elephants ever since and now have a collection of over 100 elephant ornaments, but sadly my mother recycled the one shown in the picture into fleecy slippers for me a few years later.

So don't be shy. Share your stories on Instagram using #NGSWeWereYoung. We’re looking forward to seeing them and sharing your images and stories of childhood.

7 April 2018