Not In My Playground

27 Sep

"The Twins" - Jonathan Hobin via Toronto Star

The Star features a piece on artist Jonathan Hobin whose new photographic series called In The Playroom recreates the heaviest most controversial events of the last decade and a half in the context of a child’s playroom. Themes include 9/11, the death of princess Diana, and the boxing day Tsunami.

Not surprisingly, the series has sparked controversy, but Hobin says there is logic in his expression:

“I want people to acknowledge the fact that kids see the scariest things that are out there,” he said. “If you see it, they see it.”

Some concerned parents argue that putting children in the position to pose for these photos is unfair and uncomfortable.

I don’t want to start blabbing about how wrong they are because I’ve never been a mother, but I can speak of the art in and of itself.

Art, for me, isn’t something objective that you can look at and go “oh I get it!” immediately, if ever. The more interpretive the piece, the more powerful it is. If art can elicit strong positive or negative emotion, it’s doing its job.

In terms of Hobin’s work, it brings the expression “not in my backyard”, quite literally, right into our homes. Yes children are not censored from the news of the world, but beyond that, parents forget that there are children on the receiving end of stories of devastation. Your children may be seeing footage from the Haitian earthquake, for example, but there are children in Haiti suffering first-hand.

Here are all the photographs in the series.

Opinions are welcome, please comment.

42 Responses to “Not In My Playground”

  1. dennisfinocchiaro at 10:22 am #

    GREAT post. Don’t know that I would have heard about this series if not for you, and I think the photographer makes a great point.

    • romeh at 10:54 am #

      I’m glad I could spread the word. And I completely agree with you. Really interesting photos, for sure.

  2. She.Is.Just.A.Rat at 10:50 am #

    Wow…these are really quite powerful. My stomach especially jumped seeing the Jonestown set up. It really is an intriguing study…children are not dumb – perhaps it’s best to tackle some of these topics head on rather than shielding them.

    • romeh at 10:57 am #

      Of course they’re smarter than some people give them credit for. And they have access to a lot of information on the internet that their parents probably have no idea they’re looking at. Making sure they’re aware of what goes on in the world without oversimplifying and undermining avoids creating ignorant adults

      • sittingpugs at 8:11 am #

        I’ve always thought that there were things about human behavior that children somehow knew intuitively. Being mean, for instance. Most kids know that there is a difference between someone who is nice and someone who is mean. An adult might make further distinguish nice/mean behavior from whether or not a person is truly kind or inconsiderate.

        And yet, children still have to learn how to process sensory stimuli and how to interpret meaning behind what they see and hear. Aside from trial and error and learning from mistakes of past generations, what’s the best way of helping a child develop the necessary interpretive tools without perpetuating naive optimisms or dashing dreams too early?

  3. Anna and Her Biro at 11:04 am #

    This is so interesting. I think there are positives in children getting a gentle (if this is possible) glimpse of what goes on in the world. We are so sheltered in our developed countries.

    I was talking to a friend at Lunch who has moved to India to work. She says that she has some British friends who have moved there with their children. In my mind, those children may come back to England one day with a priceless understanding of how some of the world, and a precious gratefulness for what they have.

    Thanks. You have really made me think about what I may or may not introduce my future children to.

  4. lifeintheboomerlane at 11:07 am #

    This is such a powerful post. It reminds me of the photos I’ve seen of children playing in countries at war, as well as the art produced by children in concentration camps. Children incorporate everything around them. We delude ourselves into thinking they are somehow immune to what goes on.

  5. dailymail1 at 11:08 am #

    It’s recorded that art done by children in Northern Ireland between the years of 1970-1990 heavily featured a military theme- soldiers, tanks, fire engines etc etc
    Children are our eyes to what we as adults are inflicting on our world.

  6. jeremie at 11:17 am #

    That’s pretty brilliant stuff… some pics looked like there could have been more added (Katrina).

    LOVE the Siegried & Roy bit. LOVED.

  7. fontgirl at 11:31 am #

    I think this series is inspiring and also a great reminder that kids do indeed see and understand the things that our happening in our world. Thanks for sharing!

  8. eurybe08 at 12:00 pm #

    Nice Post! Love the red fire man hat, looks great on him. On the other hand the green shirt with the hood on has his own fashion statement.

  9. Powerful art is distrubing. It should make us think, it should make us wonder how to change things in our world. These pictures just add to that. And really, how do we protect the children in the middle of those situations? Thanks for getting the word out.

  10. sylviangirl at 1:02 pm #

    Those photos are incredible, but make me feels slightly weird. Very clever concept though.

  11. lbwong at 1:57 pm #

    Kids are generally innocent. It is only from their environment do kids generate ideas and thoughts about the world. Powerful pictures! Congrats on Freshly Pressed! LB

    • romeh at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks a lot! It was a pleasant surprise to see myself there.

  12. Nathalie Foy at 2:14 pm #

    I love that series of photos, and I agree, it is not a quick answer when you look at them. It takes work, as much great art does, to figure out the references. Congratulations on being freshly pressed. We were on the list last week, and it has been a wild ride!

    • romeh at 9:04 pm #

      it’s wild indeed! Thanks for checking the blog out

  13. thebubbletree at 2:40 pm #

    I was an Early Childhood Education student working with children during the events of 9/11. While sitting back and observing the class, a very quiet little boy came up to me and, with a plastic fire hat on his head, very sadly said “planes are crashing into buildings and people are dying”.

    Children take these things in and through play they try to work it out and make sense of it all.

    Great post and great photograph, thanks!

  14. Hmmmm. What an interesting series, to say the least. Thank you for being open-minded. I am glad you were “Freshly Pressed” with this blog entry. It is not only interesting, but you have showed me something that I have never heard of. Guess who taught the teacher today?

    Maybe you’ll come visit me – although today’s entry is heavy. Be forewarned.
    Lessons From Teachers and Twits

    • romeh at 9:05 pm #


      I will definitely check out your blog!

  15. blackwatertown at 3:52 pm #

    This is arresting stuff. Thanks for the pointer to it.
    Some of it is horrific – the Abu Ghraib image in particular.
    The point about children witnessing via the media – and then re-enacting as play what they’ve seen is true. Not always good, but true. I remember that a lot of our childhood games in Belfast used to revlove round getting shot – and who was able to die the most convincingly.
    I think I’d draw the line at my kids going so far down the torture line though.

    • romeh at 9:08 pm #

      good point. In a way we all did when we were children – ring around the rosie comes to mind. We just don’t understand the magnitude until older of what we try to mimic when we’re younger.

  16. mmgoodsongs at 4:39 pm #

    As the mother of four whose children have witnessed a shooting in our own front yard and have suffered through being on lock down in school due to gang warfare I think the art is especially important to kids. It is positive way for them to convey feelings that otherwise might get stifled because they don’t quite know how to put things into words. As a parent I do try to keep the news off when my kids are around but they hear about it at school and in other parts of their lives. They need to talk about it and sometimes a photo or piece of art is a great way to get the conversation started. It gets them to ask questions which gives me some idea of what is on their mind. I love your post and I love the concept.

    • romeh at 9:10 pm #

      thank you so much for posting this especially as someone who has experienced trauma with their children. It takes a series of photos like this to get a conversation going, but hopefully it continues long after.

  17. Spoiled Eggs at 4:59 pm #

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  18. wry2010 at 5:39 pm #

    The photos are very clever! I never imagined disasters or any other event through the eyes of a child. In reality kids are very smart and take in and understand more than we give them credit for. Thank you for sharing. Congrats on FP!

  19. westfingers at 7:16 pm # If you’re interested in photography or graphic design

  20. Evie Garone at 8:19 pm #

    I tried to speak honestly with my children about everything since they’ve been born, and I believe it was a good strategy. Of course children are aware of everything that’s going on. How are these pictures hurting anyone? I think they are nice and thought provoking. Didn’t kids in the 50’s play cowboys & Indians. There is always a different set of basics kids play may be based on, be it sad or what….

  21. Brooke at 8:47 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your find – it’s interesting to see that he’s putting a spin on something we’ve all seen hundreds of times.

  22. kelemta at 9:50 pm #

    You make a very important point — “Your children may be seeing footage from the Haitian earthquake, for example, but there are children in Haiti suffering first-hand.” Aside from that, I agree that children see all of this happening in the world. Even if a child was never allowed to watch the news, they will hear about events, especially with something like 9/11 that pervades today’s culture. As for having children pose in these photos, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. It’s not like they have been forced to either. It is hard to articulate my reasoning behind that, though.

  23. lemongrassgirl at 9:58 pm #

    This is really awesome. I think it’s important for new interpretations when our media saturates us so much with these events we become desensitised to them. And that photo gave me chills…

  24. monica at 10:24 pm #

    this is very interesting. I like the photo but the thought of(and seeing) kids portraying it…that makes me feel weird.

    I understand that children are very aware of what’s happening around us and they have the right to know. but tragedies like the ones stated in the post, i think, should not be brought to play.
    I agree with Anna and her Biro…it should be a gentle glimpse 🙂

  25. gryffkin at 11:04 pm #

    Fantastic post. I would never have seen this otherwise, as many others have pointed out.

    I find myself very split on this issue, which I think speaks to how powerful this work is. It does force parents to recognize that their children are growing in a world where horrible things are happening that they cannot shelter their kids from. Parents have to understand that the scariest thing for a child is not understanding what’s going on, only knowing that something is wrong.

    It’s very disturbing to see children portraying these events however. I was really startled by “A Boo Grave.” I wonder if these kids know anything about the events they’re portraying, and if maybe they’re too young to hear about some of the recent and traumatic events the world has gone through. Years from now, when they know what these events were and what they meant, will they feel cheapened by these photos? Will they feel that it was worth it for the sake of the art? Or will they feel that the art helped them understand what’s going on in a way that they could process?

    • romeh at 11:11 pm #

      I’m glad you’re presenting an alternate viewpoint to this issue. It’s entirely possible that these children who modeled for the photographs will grow up embarrassed that they were the subjects. And then, it’s true, they may appreciate what they had a chance of participating in. I wonder how Hobin went around explaining the concepts to the children, if he did at all. That I would find interesting.

  26. leftoverkumquats at 1:20 am #

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I love “The Twins”. It says so much- about children and about our culture.
    The series is very fascinating, but even more telling than his art are people’s responses to it. Accusing the artist of “exposing” these kids is exactly – what I believe – the point the artist is trying to make: Children ARE exposed to these issues. Trying to shelter them from suffering and worldly issues is futile and harmful. They’ll incorporate these images, these events into their imaginations and we might as well try and be there for them when they ask the hard, inevitable questions rather than run away and refuse to give our children the chance to expand their understanding of how the world works.

  27. Luis at 4:47 am #

    hey, this´s great. thank

  28. oghex at 9:34 am #

    nice posting

  29. Of course children see and hear what is going on around us and need to process it however there is a huge difference between an adult putting them in these settings to pose for a photo and the child making this up in his own playtime. I don’t like the idea at all. It’s clever for sure. A clever way to make a buck. Child abuse maybe?


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