I stumbled across a photo essay on Mother Jones a couple days ago that took my breath away: photographs of children around the world and their bedrooms. James Mollison began this project as a way to engage the issue of children’s rights, and over the course of a few years, he had a collection of photographs of children, aged seven to fourteen, and their rooms that spanned 18 different countries and a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic statuses. His stunning and unsentimental photo series is now collected in a book titled “Where Children Sleep.” Of the project, Mollison says:
“I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. It occurred to me 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. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances, the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other, while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals, just as children.”
As a child my bedroom was a personalized sanctuary to me, and even now as an adult, I continue to regard my bedroom as a space that represents who I am as an individual. I don’t have the same posters of Hanson that I had on my wall as a tween in Michigan, but every detail of my room has been carefully curated to reflect my personality and project an aesthetic that’s in keeping with my identity, or at least the identity that I choose to present. It’s fascinating and sobering to observe how much that is not the case for most children around the world, and to put the idea that, as Mother Jones puts it, “wherever a child lies down at night is not so much a retreat from as a reflection of the world outside” in perspective.