Travel back to 1985 with Emily Stein’s utterly charming series, Show & Tell

With careful styling and prop design, the series celebrates the unadulterated freedom of childhood imagination and storytelling.

28 March 2023

Everyone has their show-and-tell story. A friend who was grounded for bringing in a precious family heirloom, that shy kid who turned out to have an incredibly cool hobby, or the mysterious classmate who brought their pet snake and made multiple children cry are just a few examples. What a time. It’s this feeling of childhood awe and nostalgia that Emily Stein conveys in her most recent series Show & Tell. Set in 1985, Emily has collaborated with Josie Gealer Ng, senior art director at Getty Images, to take the audience back to a time “before smart phones, the internet and helicopter parenting”.

A photographer well known for her constructed worlds, character performance and styling, the series is trademark Emily, and the subject of Show & Tell couldn’t feel more fitting. “The platform of Show & Tell is a vessel for self-expression, developing a storytelling ability, showing a skill to be awkwardly proud, or to introduce a deeply personal object,” Emily lists. Through the series we see a pair of slightly flustered looking magicians, Alba and a Shetland Sheepdog Fergus both seemingly grinning into the camera, and Rose and Bertie – a human parrot handmade puppet show. Each image exudes character, giving a clear insight into the personality of each individual subject.


Emily Stein: Show and Tell (Copyright © Emily Stein, 2023)

Emily and Josie aimed for very “clear” aesthetics, so that whether or not you were alive in the 1980s you would be able to instantaneously recognise the era. Predominantly, they achieved this through styling; with shell jackets block coloured track jackets, gaudy patterned gymnastic leotards, dungarees and sideways caps, all reminiscent of the garish trends that populated the decade.

Emily is also adept at is nestling in social critique underneath her poppy, charming visuals. She’s under no illusion that the 80s was a purely harmonious time and environment; “things weren’t easier in those times”, she identifies, “they were rife with political, social and cultural change.” The series also attends to the “limited confines of male and female identity” that both Emily and Josie experienced during the 80s. “Show & Tell really evolved through this,” Emily says. “A shared passion for making work which is simple in shape and form but has very carefully constructed elements within it.” One image portraying such themes in the image of Callum, staring intently at a selection of colourful plastic dinosaurs. “It’s reminiscent of the magnetism of product advertising, combined with ideals of gender roles at the time,” Emily explains. “It evokes a lot of thoughts and feelings for me.”

However, overall, Emily hopes that Show & Tell is a visual story that provides a moment of escapism. “This series helps us to remember the importance of sewing the roots of connection, physical freedom, and allowing young people the headspace to explore their imaginations”.

GalleryEmily Stein: Show and Tell (Copyright © Emily Stein, 2023)

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Emily Stein: Show and Tell (Copyright © Emily Stein, 2023)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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