Photographer James Mollison creates thought-provoking concepts that challenge us to expand our social and environmental world views. We first saw his work in his well-received book Where Children Sleep. Now, he has released a new book, Playground, which focuses on the unique childhood play space. With fond and powerful childhood memories of these places, Mollison wondered how the playground experience had affected others around the world. “It had been a space of excitement, games, bullying, laughing, tears, teasing, fun, and fear,” Mollison writes in the book.
Mollison journeyed around the world to capture special moments of kids at play on their school breaks. His travels took him to 13 countries, including Bhutan, Israel, India, Argentina, and the U.S. Each photograph in the book is accompanied by a detailed description from an anthropologist.
All photos copyright James Mollison
Tokyo, Japan: Because of the high cost of land in Tokyo, this playground was constructed on the roof of a school. The children are allowed to play only with soft balls, in case one lands on pedestrians on the streets below. The playground has a retractable roof that plays music as it closes. Every two days, the children clean the school. The principal says it’s important they learn to clean up after themselves.
Sierra Leone: The Kroo Bay Primary School in Sierra Leone was once used as an army base. There’s no sanitation or garbage collection, and the school must close from July to September because of floods from the Crocodile River. Teachers rely on fees paid by parents.
Tel Aviv, Israel: This high school in Tel Aviv is affiliated with the Israeli air force. Almost all students will be drafted into the military as computer engineers, electronics specialists, and mechanics. The tables are for chess and ping-pong.
Nairobi, Kenya: The Valley View school is in the Mathare slum. The classrooms are concrete blocks with corrugated metal roofs. When it rains classes stop. The classrooms are so crowded that students have to climb over desks to get out.
Thimphu, Bhutan: The ancient Dechen Phodrang Monastery overlooks Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Living conditions at the school are basic: children sleep on mats on the floor, and infections, lice, and scabies are common. Most boys are sent to the monastery because their families cannot afford to feed them.
Bethlehem, Israel: The school is in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem. Battles during the First Intifada were close by, and walls were thickened to protect students. Outside the entrance is the Israeli security wall. When soldiers aren’t looking students throw stones at them.
Inglewood, United States: Inglewood High is a public school in Los Angeles. Mollison took this photo before a pep rally.