Unreal Nature

September 16, 2015

Wherever in the World the Playground Is

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… children are smiling, and very often not for mean reasons.

This is from the Foreword, by Jon Ronson, to Playground by James Mollison (2015):

… He tells me how the photographs were a bureaucratic nightmare to pull off. Most of the schools he approached said no. One (British) school had a security guard accompany him everywhere. The children aimed footballs at James’s head, and cheered when one missed him and scored a direct hit on the security guard. They wobbled James’s tripod and called him a pervert. Why else would he want to photograph children, if he wasn’t a pervert?

Personally, I’m happy to hear these terrible stories. It’s always nice to know that someone has worked ridiculously hard on a project, gone to crazy lengths. If we expect people to pay good money for our books, our discomfort is the least we can offer in return.

Mollison_Kenya
Manera Primary School, Naivasha, Kenya

… Playground experiences can mold a lifetime.

This is why I don’t see this book as a record of adorable rough-and-tumble and hijinks. Other people will see it that way, but not me. I see it as a book of horror photographs. Wherever in the world the playground is, you notice it: little flashes of violence and cruelty. My eyes skip past the comfortable little cliques and the best friends holding hands to the outcasts, the pariahs, the ones protecting their faces from the blows.

Mollison_Nepal
Bhakta Vidyashram, Kathmandu, Nepal

[ … ]

… I feel bad about how much of the introduction to this beautiful book has focused on the sad, painful, angry moments captured in James’s photographs, when in fact there’s an awful lot of happiness here. The hula hooping and skipping girls in LA and Tokyo, the Bedouin boys climbing in the West Bank; all over the world, children are smiling, and very often not for mean reasons.

Mollison_Tokyo
Seishin Joshi Gakun School, Tokyo

And in fact I know right away what my favorite photograph of all is here. It’s the leaf-throwing contest taking place in the field at Thornton College in Buckinghamshire. It’s so familiar and so lovely, so British and autumnal. Those faces!

“They organized it themselves,” James says. “They’d spent fifteen minutes collecting leaves, and they just suddenly broke out into this moment. It was brilliant.”
“I forgot that playgrounds were that fun,” I said.
“That moment when the lesson is over and you just run,” James says.
“The sheer excitement of it. The lesson ends. And you just explode out into the playground, and you’re just running … “

-Julie

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