Kenya-born, England-raised photographer James Mollison has created a series called Where Children Sleep: 'stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedrooms.'
I find this work thought-provoking from many angles - social, political, etc., and in the context of this blog, a good representation of clashes between 'material cultures'. Not so much linked to the country (a lot of the extremes shown here probably have a replication everywhere you go), but rather linked to revenues, customs, and spending patterns.
Here are 2 bedroom photographs from the series, with the personal belongings of the children laid out in the space:
- the first photo fascinates me because
1) the accumulation of objects in the room seems to overcome the life that can take place within it - more museum than bedroom, at least from that angle
2) light, furniture/flooring, and most of these objects are artificial (neon light, particle board, fake wood, hard & soft plastics, artificial fabrics & fur)
3) through sheer number, they overfulfill a need (hundreds of toys vs. the basic need to play / 20+ heavily decorated outfits vs. the basic need to be dressed).
- the second photo fascinates me because
1) the presence of raw materials is almost brutal (earth floor, clay & wood walls, reeds on the roof, etc.) + natural light
2) it seems we could trace each object back to a basic need (a backpack to carry things, a pair of shorts and underwears, blankets to be warm, a platform to sleep on, a rope to hold clothes...)
I wonder about the kind of society that creates the former - I feel that I belong to it, and that photograph is simply one of its most radical illustrations - where 'comfort' is created through the massive production of heavily designed items, relying heavily on the petro-chemical industry, taking up space and blurring our vision of necessary vs. superfluous. What kind of action/behavior could turn it around?
Even if I can never tell whether Ahkohxet is happier or not than Kaya, poorer or not in all the possible meanings of 'poverty', burdened by the same petrochemical industry but in more complex ways, I am attracted to the idea that anybody, regardless of their wealth, could make the choice of owning very few, but useful and therefore meaningful, things.
Thoughts from my friend Scott while this article was still in the works :'In addition to the obvious conclusions about material obsessions and
waste, another way of looking at these is to ask "who has more?" in a
broader context. Maybe the roles are reversed? Material possessions can
isolate people. It would be interesting to see what each child's
"outside" looks like, and what they experience in a typical day with
family and neighbors.'
And from my friend Nick, who lives in the US: 'Ahkohxet's room looks like my bedroom when I was his age - drab drab drab :)'
Photographs published with the kind permission of James Mollison.
For those interested, the book Where Children Sleep is currently sold out, but will be reprinted later this year by Chris Boot.