© Alejandra Carles Tolra

One Old Master, 14 young people, 15 self-portraits. The Brighton & Hove Photography Club have taken a Rembrandt self-portrait as the creative starting point for a programme exploring visual culture and photography from the past to the modern age. As part of the programme, the young people’s self-portraits have been professionally curated and exhibited alongside the Rembrandt at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.  

Our Photography Club is an initiative enabling young people to meet regularly, develop their camera skills alongside a professional photographer, produce photography and gain an Arts Award qualification.  

For this edition of Photography Club, we continued our ongoing partnership with Brighton & Hove Museums. The young people aged 13 – 16 have been supported by award-winning artist Alejandra Carles-Tolra and the museums’ Youth Engagement Team. 

Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 34, 1640 was presented for the first time in Brighton as part of National Treasures, a nationwide celebration of the 200th birthday of the National Gallery in London. Painted by Rembrandt nearly 400 years ago, it is considered one of his most beautiful and fascinating works of art.  

Under the guidance of Alejandra, the young participants were challenged to express how they would like to be seen by their peers, when, like Rembrandt, they reach the age of 34.

The resulting images aimed to create dialogue between a long-dead old master and today’s young people. The young people’s artworks complement the Rembrandt painting, subverting and challenging traditional conventions of self-portraiture. These new images examine the role of photography and self-projection in not only the past and present, but also in a speculative future. 

The participants of the Photography Club made a playlist showcasing the songs that have shaped who they are. Listen to the playlist here!

The National Treasures celebration involves 12 simultaneous exhibitions opening on the same day at 12 museums and galleries across the UK. More than half the UK population will be within an hour’s journey of a National Gallery masterpiece. 

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was a Dutch, Golden Age painter, printmaker and draughtsman. In the striking self-portrait, the artist presents himself in a confident pose, dressed in expensive-looking fur, velvet and jewels but all is not what it seems.  

His sophisticated clientele would have noted that the painting style, colours and ‘trompe ‘l’oeil’ pose echo those in the earlier Renaissance paintings by artists such as Titian and Raphael.  

Rembrandt’s contemporaries would have known that his impressive costume is very old-fashioned. He portrays himself as a Renaissance gentleman, dressed in fashion from over a century earlier to pay homage and compare himself to the most famous artists of that earlier time.  

Rembrandt was projecting an image of himself as he would like to be perceived and claiming a much higher social status than artists had at that time. 

Like Rembrandt, the Photography Club participants also explored the themes of time travel, celebrity and self-projection. 

The participants of the Photography Club took a trip to the National Gallery in London in December 2023 to visit the Rembrandt painting in person. You can read their reviews of the experience on this Brighton & Hove Museums blog!

All images made by project participants with Alejandra Carles Tolra, 2023-2024. With thanks to Melanie Pollard and Zoe Montgomery for their support. 


I’ve always wanted an excuse to start photography but never had a good one. This was what I was looking for and I would love to keep it up and develop my photography skill.


The highlight for me was the day where we made our final ideas come to life and spent hours photographing our final pieces and helping each other.


I thought it was really interesting to see all the other self-portraits at the National Gallery in London, and it inspired on how I will do mine. 

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