When James Mollison, a documentary photographer, started working on a project about children’s rights, he didn’t want to just show “needy kids” in poverty. He thought back to the time when he was a child and it occured to him “that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances.” Because all kids have to sleep somewhere and most kids want their bedrooms to reflect their interests and personalities. The children’s bedroom spaces are revealing of each child’s life and place in it, and it is impossible to look at the photos and not think of your own children and how they have claimed their space in the world.
The 56 diptychs in his book, Where Children Sleep, cover a wide swath of children in all kinds of living situations and the overall effect is one that is haunting and a little disturbing. The children’s rooms are portrayed as their occupants desired, full of their belongings, personalities, and “cultural circumstance.” The children, in an effort to put them all on equal ground, were photographed in front of a neutral background. Their outfits, striking in some cases, and eyes, striking in every case, are what will stay with you in the end.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I find the rooms of the children with the most advantages the most disturbing. Perhaps it is the excess of some in such stark contrast to the children who have so little? Is it that the photographs of the children, most without smiles, all look like they could be the kid down the street?
Note: Photos of the children and their rooms are placed side by side in the book, as a diptych. Because of the size constraint of photos in slideshows, I have had to separate the photos so you can see details in the rooms. I have placed the room first, followed by it’s occupant, throughout the slideshow.
Photos: Where Children Sleep