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James Mollison: Playground
Text by Jon Ronson.
James Mollison's photo projects are based on smart, original concepts applied to serious social and environmental themes. For his latest book, Playground, Mollison has photographed children at play in school playgrounds, inspired by memories of his own childhood, and interested in how we all learn to negotiate relationships and our place in the world at a young age through play. For each picture, Mollison sets up his camera during school break time, making multiple frames, and then composing each final photograph from several scenes, in which he finds revealing "play" narratives. With photographs from rich and poor schools, in countries including Argentina, Bhutan, Bolivia, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Norway, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom and the USA, Mollison also provides lively access for readers of all ages to issues of global diversity and inequality.
The work of James Mollison (born 1973) has been featured widely in such publications as Colors, The New York Times Magazine and The Paris Review, among many others. He has also published several books, among them James and Other Apes (2004), The Disciples (2008) and Where Children Sleep (2010).
"Playground Frere Town School" is reproduced from James Mollison: Playground.
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
While on assignment, Mollison expanded the project to include schools in Kenya and eventually trekked around the world, photographing playgrounds in more than a dozen countries. He found an incredible diversity in the schools but, also, a universality in the children's play—particularly with boys.
In previous projects ranging from closeups of apes to group shots of rock-fan disciples, Mollison has shown glimpses of individuality within swaths of sameness, in which detailed study reveals layers of insight. This series continues the trend, depicting schoolchildren romping on playgrounds throughout the globe; their environs vary wildly, from the wilds of Kenya to the cramped modernity of Japan, but their unbridled energy is constant.
The images are scenic and delightful, illustrating both the common activity of recreation and the differences in the places children have available to them. Some are wooded, others paved and urban. Some look posh, others hardscrabble. Some are majestic. Some aren’t playgrounds at all.
The photos recall the scenes of fun, embarrassment, relaxation, disappointment and anxiety that plague the playground for a growing brain. Although, in retrospect, the notion of playtime tends to acquire a rose-colored glow, Mollison reminds us of the intensity and calamity that often occurred between classes. The photographer set up his camera during school breaks, capturing multiple frames and then collapsing them into a single composite image, in which a constructed "play narrative" is created.
His images capture the similarities of youthful play across social boundaries and national borders, but also the deep divides of class and privilege that are often put in place long before we’re old enough to understand their implications.
Jordan G. Teicher
While Mollison’s photographs provide a look at how different schools in the U.K., for instance, look compared to those in Kenya, they’re not merely architectural studies. The photographs are teaming with children, and looking at them, you can watch scenes unfold and relationships develop.
The scenes are breathtakingly beautiful and an intriguing snapshot of life in countries as varied as India, Bhutan, Bolivia, Israel, Norway, Italy, Japan and the UK.
FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 5/1/2015
One of the most eagerly awaited photography books this season, James Mollison: Playground collects the photographer's subtly provocative images of children at play on schoolgrounds around the world - from the fatigue-sporting Cadet School of the Heroes of Space in Moscow to the Virani Deaf and Dumb School in Rajkot, Gujarat, India, to the Freretown Community Primary School in Mombasa, below. Preorder now!
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FROM THE ARTBOOK BLOG
CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 3/20/2015
A follow-up of sorts to his landmark photobook Where Children Sleep, James Mollison's beautiful new monograph collects 59 fascinating photographs of childrens' playgrounds around the world. (See more images here.) Each image is extensively captioned, providing an extra layer of point-blank sociology. Of Holtz High School, Tel Aviv, Israel, September 12, 2013, Mollison writes, "This high school is also a technical college and is affiliated with the Israeli air force. Nearly all of the pupils will be drafted into the air force as computer engineers, electronics specialists and mechanics. The 850 students come from all over the country because they want a military career or because their parents believe that it will make them well disciplined. In addition to tables for chess and ping-pong, there are a few old military aircraft spread around the campus. This photo was taken after the students had been practicing marching and military drills and while they were waiting for their parents to arrive to watch their end-of-term parade. The school belongs to the Amal group, established in 1928, a network of 120 institutions that concentrate on technological education to ensure that Israel will have the well-trained young people that it needs."
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