James Mollison: Playground

Paso Payita, Aramasi, Chu...
Dechen Phodrang, Thimphu,...
Freretown Community, Prim...

Over de expositie

Van de beroemde Engelse fotograaf James Mollison toont Flatland Gallery een bijzondere selectie fotowerken uit zijn indrukwekkende serie Playground. Mollison, onder meer bekend van zijn apenfoto’s ("James and the other Apes ") en zijn boek over Pablo Escobar maakte in zo’n twintig landen foto’s van kinderen op het speelplein. Een omgeving waar het „echte" leven begint; waar we vechten voor een plaatsje tussen de anderen; waar het gaat om overleven of om pure blijdschap. In de tentoonstelling zullen ook geluidsfragmenten te horen zijn van deze kinderen, uit Bhutan, Mombassa tot Israel. Bij de tentoonstelling is het gelijknamige boek Playground verschenen, uitgegeven door Aperture in New York. Dit boek is ook in te zien in de galerie.

For his latest series of photographs Playground, Mollison photographed children at play in their 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 through play.

James Mollison’s newest work entitled Playground will be on show at the Flatland Gallery in Amsterdam. In conjunction with his new series of photographs, Aperture Foundation New York will publish his book 'Playground', launching it on the openingsday of Mollison's exhibition in Aperture's gallery on April 16th, 2015 in New York.

Playground is a follow-up to ‘Where Children Sleep’: portraits of children in various countries, published in 2010. Once again the artist has explored the situation of children around the world. He travelled through five continents, to 17 countries: from Bolivia, the USA and the Caribbean Islands, through Norway, Israel and Kenya to Nepal, China and Japan. The result of this vast undertaking was the creation of almost 60 photographs depicting pupils during recess at schools. This large project took a lot of effort on Mollison’s part, as he usually needed special permission to access the premises to photograph students.

The playground is a seemingly pleasant, fun and enjoyable topic. However, schools are a serious and important part of our lives. Here we develop, and during the short breaks between classes we indulge in important interactions, which are usually unmonitored by the teachers and cannot be fully supervised. Real life begins in the playground, where we either have to strive for survival or status. Cliques form, gossip spreads, fights begin. Many of us remember being bullied, pushed over, laughed at. This can be especially observed in Mollison’s photographs of the schools in the UK.

Social problems arising during recess in Western societies pale in comparison with those in underdeveloped countries. In many places the situation that children endure cannot be influenced by their behaviour, as they were born to a hard life. In some cases they have no other option but to spend their free time on heaps of trash with animals. In other areas teachers have to check them for traces of sexual abuse. In some countries life is exposed to the constant danger of war. This can be observed in the photographs taken in the Middle East and Africa.

Despite the fact that Mollison touches upon crucial issues, such as politics, global diversity and inequality, his photographs are not merely documents of social history. They have a strong artistic value, attained by colour, contrasts and composition. Taken from a raised point, they present the viewer with the essence of human interaction; a multitude of small Shakespearean dramas simultaneously taking place. What is more, there is no connection between the photographer and his subjects, who make no eye contact with the viewer. They seem to be captured in their natural habitat, without the interference of the outside world.

Observing children at play evokes genre paintings of Old Dutch and Flemish Masters, especially that of the Flemish renaissance artist, Pieter Breughel the Elder. In his work Children's Games (1560) he portrayed youngsters in a town pursuing various amusing activities, of which eighty have been identified.

Here, as in Mollison’s photos, children indulge in seemingly innocuous games; however, on looking more closely you may discover some menacing and rather sinister behaviour. Although the meaning of this painting remains unclear, one of the many interpretations presents children as small adults whose actions reflect what they have learned from their observation of adult daily life.

Given the diverse settings, races and cultures captured in Mollison’s photographs,you might expect strong contrasts between them. And these are indeed apparent at first glance. But the more you think about the children’s behaviour the less important these differences seem. As Mollison himself stated, “Although the schools I photographed were very diverse, I was struck by the similarities between children’s behaviour and the games they played.”

Dechen Phodrang, Thimphu, Bhutan (see image by James Mollison)

This school is situated in the ancient Dechen Phodrang monastery, the name of which literally means the “Palace of Great Bliss”. Children here have strictly organised lives, with an emphasis on daily prayer. They are usually enrolled by their families, who cannot afford to feed them. Once they have finished studying here, they move on to the Monastic College.

The peaceful atmosphere of this photograph emanates from the majestic landscape and rather static composition. The dark red of the robes set against the green of the mountain slopes creates an artistic colour contrast. The boys portrayed in this photograph are lingering, strolling or running around, with the company of a few dogs. There are no distractions, toys or means of amusement to occupy their minds. Many of them are simply standing, perhaps absorbed by their thoughts. One might suppose that due to the lack of external means of entertainment, their evolution is a more internal one, happening inside their heads. This could also be accentuated by the temple, which reflects a focus inward.

The book
Playground, published by Aperture, is composed of three parts: the foreword, the photographs, and the short explanatory texts at the end. The introduction and personal note is written by Jon Ronson, the author of many bestsellers including The Men Who Stare at Goats. Mollison’s pictures are page-size, with brief provenance notes on the side. There are no unnecessary distractions from the images. Unobtrusive line drawings of children selected from those in the picture are printed in the margins to encourage close observation and to make a puzzle, in the same manner as the Where is Waldo series. At the end of the book one can find notes written by Mollison himself, describing the specific circumstances under which he worked, the events that moved him and the beauty of the stories he discovered.

Wanneer en waar

  • Expositieperiode was t/m 18 jul 2015
Flatland Gallery
Lijnbaansgracht 312 - 314
1017WZ Amsterdam
+31 (0)20-33053

open: The exhibition space is open from Wednesday - Saturday 1 pm - 6 pm during exhibitions and by appointment


James Mollison