This blog post is inspired by the photo essay we began to discuss last week in class, “Where Children Sleep” by James Mollison. Here is the photo essay: http://jamesmollison.com/books/where-children-sleep/jaime-9-new-york-usa/
Different countries. Different aged children. Completely different living environments. I viewed this photo essay with a dropped jaw, shocked at the differences. That word kept repeating in my head over and over again as each photo went by. Why were these photos so shocking? Why did I feel close to tears as the photo essay continued? I racked my brain for the answers as an adorable, anonymous 4 year old boy from Rome flashed across the computer screen. Viewing this is challenging, and in this post I set out to provoke thought on exactly why it is challenging.
Where did we all grow up? Personally, I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood in a central Jersey suburban neighborhood, inside a cozy, two-floor house. Not everyone gets that opportunity, despite the area they live in. St. Louis or the Hamptons. Camden or SoHo. It’s not about location necessarily, but more about your overall environment. Family, income, education. All of these things factor into our growth as humans. Broken families or married parents? Low income or upper class? There are many questions that can go into this discussion. The anonymous boy from Rome is a prime example. Rome is absolutely stunning; we see photos of it in history books, in Facebook photos of people who have studied abroad there. We see the lovely architecture and the buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years. What we don’t take notice of is the lower side of it all; this little boy’s mattress is not amongst the upper tiers of the beautiful city. That’s why this is challenging to me. We don’t pay attention to what’s not directly in front of us.
There are children with fancy rooms, such as Tristan from New York, whose room is covered wall to wall in toys. Then directly after him, there’s Roathy, who’s photographed clinging on to what appears to be a bag of trash. How do things like this challenge your thinking? I’m sitting here toggling back and forth between these two photos, noticing the placement of them in the photo essay, and also trying to piece together what their background may be. I think that Mollison most likely took placement and order into huge consideration when ultimately putting this all together. To put such a large amount of juxtaposition between photos adds a certain shock value; it heightens the perspective and overall conveys the message quicker by showing that there is a huge difference.
One thing I noticed throughout this series is the fact that there is the option of choice. Some, not all, of these students have the choice on how to arrange, decorate, and enhance their room. There is a bedroom designed to replicate and reflect the child’s love for football, and the photo shown to the left of it is the child in his football uniform. Seeing that he’s passionate about the sport, it’s easy to conclude that he wanted his bedroom to reflect this, so this personal space of his is both enjoyable and personal. Then you can look at the photo directly following that one, and it’s a malnourished-looking child and where he sleeps; in a hut-like unlit room with nearly just a bed. I doubt that this child chose to live this way and wants to have this kind of living space. Kids are creative, they’re outgoing and fun-loving. They want to express themselves in any way that they possibly can in order to both have fun and put in their opinion on something. This is another reason why I find this photo essay challenging to view. Knowing that some of these children don’t have the choice. They don’t have any other option. Whatever they were born into, they didn’t choose it. I chose to have my room green. I picked to put my bed in a particular corner and I decided to hang up a special piece of Giants memorabilia on the opposite wall. But how come I ended up being fortunate enough to have these options and not some of these kids? How come some of them could decide and the others couldn’t? That is why this is challenging to get through.
So where did you sleep? Where do you sleep now? Do you have options, and can you make choices? I hope this provokes some thought, because I know it did for me.