A Photographer Shares Amazing, But Controversial Photos Of Children’s Rooms


The Huffington Post has a fantastic online series of photography projects with a cultural bend. This week they’re introducing James Mollison’s book, Where Children Sleep, which was published a while back (as PITNBrs Becca and Missy pointed out). Mollison has taken amazing, powerful photos of children and their rooms from around the world. I enjoyed the pictures immensely, but a lot of readers are accusing Mollison of bias and really, lack of creativity. The difference between the rooms of the kids in America and the kids in say, Palestine is vast (for obvious reasons). But did the artists portray American kids as the spoiled, rich brats that many of them aren’t? Checkie out inside.

The HuffPost also interviewed the artist about his work:

Childhood bedrooms are among the first places we call our own. Shared with others or not, these are spaces of our play, of our dreams, and of our stuff. Teddy bears, action figures, blankets, pillows, marks on the ceiling—each child’s bedroom forms its own unique world. Venice based photographer James Mollison’s book, “Where Children Sleep” explores this originary landscape, taking us inside children’s bedrooms across the globe.

Can you tell us a particularly striking child’s story you encountered on your journey?
In terms of extremes between two children, it would be between Jaime, who I photographed in his top-floor apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York, and Lehlohonolo who lived in Lesotho, in southern Africa. Jamie went to a highly sought after school and had a hectic schedule of after-school activities like judo, swimming lessons, cello and kickball; he also liked to study his finances on the Citibank website.

Lehlohonolo lived with his three brothers, who were AIDS orphans. The boys lived in a mud hut where they slept together on the floor, cuddling up to each other for warmth during the freezing cold nights. Two of Lehlohonolo’s brothers walked to a school eight kilometers away where they are also given monthly rations of food -– cereal, pulses and oil. They couldn’t remember the last time they ate meat. Sadly, they will probably live in poverty for the rest of their lives because crops are difficult to grow on the infertile land and there are no prospects of employment. The vulnerability of the these kids was very upsetting.

What do you hope people will take away from this series?

We tend to inhabit a small world of friends, family, work, school etc. I hope the book gives a a glimpse into the lives some children are living in very diverse situations around the world; a chance to reflect on the inequality that exists, and realise just how lucky most of us in the developed world are.

Read the full interview here.

Here are the photographs. You could argue that he’s contrasting American life with the life of the ‘Other,’ which can be problematic. But I’m not sure that he’s entirely wrong:

Roathy, Cambodia

Hamdi, Palestine

Jasmine, Kentucky

Nantio, Kenya

Kaya, Tokyo

Tzvika, Israel

Jivan, New York (Brookyn)

The argument a lot of people made was typical: Hey! I’m American and my kids don’t live like that! Readers seemed offended by the photographer’s perpetuation of the idea that alll Americans are wealthy, while those in other countries are allll poor. And little girls in Tokyo have an ish-load of toys. I agree, there are plenty of stereotypes at work here. But I’ve always thought that stereotypes exist for a reason– sometimes small, ridiculous reasons– but I would make the same argument here. Of course there’s poverty in America. Of course. Yet and still, American poverty is “different” from East African poverty, which is different from French poverty. Not to open up this discussion but, there’s a reason people would rather be poor in America. It’s because the poverty where they live is of a different, far more horrific sort. So I’m not going to complain that he didn’t show the bedrooms of American kids who live in the projects or children who live in a one-bedroom apartment with their entire family. Another photographer will do that, and others surely have.

And here’s an important note. The HuffPost did not include all of Mollison’s works from his book. He had more balance than we might have initially given him credit for. And his work is, to me, still stunning:

Alyssa, Kentucky

Douha, Palestine

Joey, Kentucky

Jaime, NYC

Delanie, New Jersey

Li, China

See more photos here.

What do you guys make of Mollison’s work? Brilliant, biased or both?


  • Meghan

    I think is is problematic to compare American living conditions to those of 3rd world contries. In America, your child would be removed if you let them sleep outside on a couch or in dirt covered by a tent. At the same time American poverty is represented in that the roof seems to be coming down in one of the rooms. The home is only heated by a wooden stove. That is American poverty, but it is very different than poverty in Africa or Iran.

    • Meghan, thanks for commenting. When I found those other pictures I thought that he did have more balance there. But I think he might want readers to compare the living conditions and think about what they imply.

    • Meghan

      It is sad, to be sure and we in America certainly have much, much more than those in truly impoverished nations. All in all these photos made me depressed.

    • jcov154

      try families sleeping in tents under the 4th street bridge in Los angeles. wonder why they’re not “removed” by authorities?!

  • sars

    You know, I don’t think the photos are that biased. If you look at the American photos alone, there is more diversity in there than “American kids are rich and spoiled.” Sure some look it *cough*Jasmine*cough* but then there are pictures like Alyssa’s that show the complete opposite! I think it’s a pretty good series of photos tbh

    • sars, thanks for commenting. Everyone jumped all over *cough*Jasmine*cough* lol, but I think you’re right. There’s balance here, even as he’s trying to make a point.

  • Balito

    what about the girl from Tokyo!!! i didnt see any bed whatsoever…. just toys all over… :/

    • Balito, her room looked insane, right?! I’m sure there was a bed in there somewhere, lol.

  • Kat

    Joey from Kentucky worries me a little bit but maybe that’s just my soft natured Canadian.

    • susan

      @ Kat, that pic worries me too and I’m from NYC.

    • Me too! I can’t believe his parents let him have guns just sitting in his room. I believe in teaching gun safety and handling a gun is part of that, but I wouldn’t just let them sit out. Our rifles are hidden in a 600lb safe with a combo that my son WON’T know, ever. Besides, ours are used for hunting, not playing with. Hopefully his parents are smart enough to not have bullets lying around too.

  • ellobie

    I think it’s brilliant. That people react so strongly to seeing children living on a couch or sleeping on tires is GOOD. It means we haven’t lost our sense of humanity. It is also super-depresso but hopefully that will get some people to do something. So many of us in America feel poor and downtrodden but really have so much. It’s good to be reminded of that.

  • kat :)

    I think it’s brilliant and fascinating. The first group was bias, but you pulled up a few more “balanced” views of America. There are some rooms that are still way more ridiculous than those kids rooms, and of course, there are some rooms that kids share with 7 other people. But for the most part, for the average reader, it really is interesting and eye opening to see.

  • when i bought this book, it was sealed in plastic so i couldn’t read the whole thing before i brought it home. i bought it hoping that it would provide some interesting/fun perspective for my five year old daughter. not exactly what i had in mind! i don’t agree with the argument that it is biased in terms of what the kids HAVE, but it is biased in terms of it ALL being depressing. there are kids in america and kids in many of those other countries that have happy childhoods and i wouldn’t have minded if a few more happy-looking kids/rooms had been included! there were no kids in there that represented MY kids: not rich or poor but HAPPY.

  • Becca

    Dunno if a source-check is due…
    These pictures haven’t JUST been released. They’ve been out for quite some time. Can’t remember where or when I saw them first (I’m quite sure it’s more than a year ago), now that I think about it it may even have been here in one of Trent’s posts…
    No hate – just want to make sure the facts are right.
    Pink Rules! =)

    • Missy

      Pretty sure it was on here…or at least as a Les News link, cause I’ve seen them too.

    • Thanks Becca and Missy! I know the book isn’t new but the feature/interview on HuffPost is. I’ll try to clarify though.

  • Jessicagiovanna

    So American representation is found in the NE or KY? Its interesting, sure, a conversation starter, but true? I don’t think there’s enough contrast.. For all the countries listed that is…

  • I have not read or heard of this book but I would like to purchase it to look over with my daughter. It is a good way to show her that even though these kids do not have lots of material items they can be just as happy as anyone else. I wish we got to see photos of all of the children smiling. I dislike that Jasmie is the only one smiling in her photograph.

  • Ben@pr

    I don’t think he’s portraying American kids as spoiled at all. The girl from Kentucky’s house is falling apart. The Americans kids he selected are very diverse and included a rich kid, middle class and poor. The Asian girls don’t seem to be poor either. He’s just remembering us how hard really is out there for many people in the entire World since they are growing up. Many of them don’t enjoy a childhood because of extreme poverty among other issues as living in conflicting zones and slavery (to me a girl that works since age 3 is slavery).

  • Shiny

    This photo series is incredible. Some of these images made me feel like I’d been kicked in the stomach. Not just the ones taken outside the States either. I would love to buy a copy of this book, I will be pondering these images for a while. There is a sadness in all these photos, even the wealthy images. It is a sadness that children around the world are touched by such tragedy, but the sadness is relative to each individual. How many children are treated as accessories by their parents, or have never played with mudpies, or have parents who never see them but leave them with a succession of help? How many children are treated as ‘mini-adults’ in this day and age? Or given everything they ask for and as a result never learn to deal with the disappointments of the real world? Raising children is a minefield. Every parent I know only wants to ensure their children’s happiness and safety. I will keep thinking about these photos. I’m not really sure what I think yet. I think not being sure is a sign that this is successful art. Thanks for putting these on the site. x

  • Shiny

    PS: my comment is not intended to weigh the tragedy of the privileged against the needy. Obviously there is an undeniable inequality in this world.

  • aubrey

    Says a lot about the family, the parents, the economy, etc.
    It’s really up to the readers’ interpretation.