‘In the Playroom’ is a series of images depicting children re-enacting disasters, current events, trials and political screw ups of our times. Canadian photographer and art director Jonathan Hobin covers the gamut – the 9/11 attacks, seal clubbing, the murder of a pre-teen beauty queen, Korean nuclear power, Abu-Ghraib and even the death of a princess.
Hobin caught a lot of flack for his series: his images have been described as pure shock value, tasteless, ‘self-indulgent masturbation’ and “sick, sick, sick”. And the children’s parents have been vilified for their involvement.
Hobin told Vice magazine he “never photographed a kid without having a clear dialogue with the parents about what the intention is and what I expect(ed) the images to be. …… Most of these parents, they’re well educated, they get the arguments, and they think the photos portray a valid point that they want to participate in.”
Vice asked Hobin if the children understood what he was doing: “Sometimes the kids just get it. Like the 9/11 picture. Even though they are three or four years old, they saw the twin towers and said, ‘I’ll hold the airplane, this is where the plane hit the building.’ The mother was stunned. These symbols have worked their way into our subconscious. They are so ingrained in our culture, and they’re instantly recognizable.”
Let’s hope that children aren’t carrying the images of Abu-Ghraib around with them … but given the 24 hour looping of our news cycles, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Does our constant hunger for entertainment mean we inuring kids to the violence in the world? Or does the lack of a laugh track and a catchy tune render them disinterested? Do kids understand the difference between news and entertainment?
Hobin says: “To start talking about specifics, like bringing in culture, religion… things like that, I think that’s just too big for them to handle. They get the broad strokes. I’m sure it makes for some very interesting conversations on the way home from the photo shoot.”
Watching children play is fascinating – they spend ages making the rules, a brief time playing the game and the rest of the interaction is spent in throwing their toys or recriminations. Often ending in tears, and a regroup. And then a new set of rules.
Much like adults in pretty much any situation you can think of. And, contentions models and settings aside, that’s what these photos say to me.