For school kids, recess is the big release in a sometimes-tedious day of sitting still, paying attention, keeping quiet and leaving one’s neighbors alone. It’s a collective blowing off of steam and nervous energy that, one has to think, is necessary to prevent all-out mutiny.
During these periods of outdoor recreation, small collections of students engage in all manner of self-guided activity, from sports to games to climbing and innocent flirtation. There are injuries and frustrations and conflicts that kids have to work through. These small scenes of joy and drama are captured beautifully in James Mollison’s latest book, Playground, published this month by Aperture.
In Mollison’s photographs, playground landscapes from schools all over the world—Britain, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Kenya and the U.S., among many countries—are filled with young people who are fully engaged, oblivious to the camera. The images are scenic and delightful, illustrating both the common activity of recreation and the differences in the places children have available to them. Some are wooded, others paved and urban. Some look posh, others hardscrabble. Some are majestic. Some aren’t playgrounds at all. The work is a continuation of Mollison’s interest in the lives of children around the world, which began with his book Where Children Sleep, a bestseller that depicted children of different nationalities, from widely varying socioeconomic backgrounds, in their bedrooms.
There is much to look at in the Playground photographs, which Mollison created by compositing “moments that happened during a single break time—a kind of time-lapse photography,” he writes in the book. All of the different interactions lend themselves to endless imagining. And, as Mollison points out, the interaction between images, indeed between the students, is a significant part of the work. “Although the schools I photographed were very diverse, I was struck by the similarities between children’s behavior and the games they played,” he writes.
— Conor Risch