How do you photograph an abstract concept like "children's rights"? This was the question that lead to James Mollison's latest project Where Children Sleep, in which he combines portraits of children from all over the world with photographs of the spaces where they sleep at night.
To break away from the kinds of images typically used by NGOs that show kids suffering in terrible situations brought on by poverty, disaster, conflict and other crises, Mollison set out to complement the images of the children's bedrooms with portraits of each of the kids on white seamless, drewing viewers in and encouraging them to consider more deeply the situations of children living all over the world.
The differences between the children's background made visible in Mollison's photos, demonstrates how issues of class, cultural background, access to wealth, opportunity and basic necessities affect the lives of kids more than anything else. Where Children Sleep is both for an adult audience, as much as for children as children may open their eyes to those kids who can't sleep in their bedroom at night, simply because they don't have a bedroom.
The photographs in Where Children Sleep show children from the U.S.A., Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy, Israel and the West Bank, Kenya, Senegal, Lesotho, Nepal, China and India. Working and traveling for other projects for UNICEF and Fabrica, the Bennetton-founded communications research center where Mollison works, Mollison would arrange days in each locale to work on his own series Where Children Sleep.
Mollison's work serves in a way as a counterpoint to an art photography world, which has become too subjective and doesn't have the capacity, he feels, to engage the audience in the subject itself. Rather than it's just about the photographer and the relationship to his subject, Mollison tries to create work that is objective in the sense that it gets the viewer deeply engaged with his subject instead of drawing attention to himself as photographer. Mollison used the same approach of diptychs in his previous series —James & Other Apes, a series of close-up portraits of the faces of primates that reveals a wealth of character and expression; and The Disciples, a collection of portraits of concertgoers that examines some of the pageantry and devotion of music fandom.
In the book Where Children Sleeps (published by Chris Boot) that accompanies this exhibition, each pair of photographs is accompanied by an extended caption that tells the story of each child: Kaya in Tokyo, whose proud mother spends $1,000 a month on her dresses; Bilal the Bedouin shepherd boy, who sleeps outdoors with his father's herd of goats; the Nepali girl Indira, who has worked in a granite quarry since she was three; and Ankhohxet, the Kraho boy who sleeps on the floor of a hut deep in the Amazon jungle.
James Mollison was born in Kenya in 1973 and grew up in England. After studying art and design at Oxford Brookes, and later film and photography at Newport School of Art and Design, he moved to Italy to work at Benetton’s creative lab, Fabrica. His work has been widely published throughout the world in Colors, The New York Times Magazine, the Guardian magazine, The Paris Review, the New Yorker, Le Monde and elsewhere. His previous series include The Disciples (2008), The Memory of Pablo Escobar (2007) and James and Other Apes (2004). Mollison has lived in Venice since 2003.