Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

08 AUGUST, 2011

Where Children Sleep: James Mollison’s Poignant Photographs

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What the Amazon rainforest has to do with the Kaisut Desert and Fifth Avenue luxury.

On the heels of this morning’s homage to where children read and learn comes a curious look at where they sleep. That’s exactly what Kenyan-born, English-raised, Venice-based documentary photographer James Mollison explores in Where Children Sleep — a remarkable series capturing the diversity of and, often, disparity between children’s lives around the world through portraits of their bedrooms. The project began on a brief to engage with children’s rights and morphed into a thoughtful meditation on poverty and privilege, its 56 images spanning from the stone quarries of Nepal to the farming provinces of China to the silver spoons of Fifth Avenue.

From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background.” ~ James Mollison

Perhaps most interestingly, the book was written and designed as an empathy tool for 9-to-13-year-olds to better understand the lives of other children around the world, but it is also very much a poignant photographic essay on human rights for the adult reader.

7-year-old Indira works at a granite quarry and lives in a one-room house near Katmandu, Nepal, with her parents, brother and sister.

4-year-old Jasmine has participated in over 100 child beauty pageants and lives in a large house in the Kentucky countryside.

4-year-old Romanian boy who shares a mattress with his family in the outskirts of Rome.

8-year-old Justin plays football, basketball and baseball. He lives in a four-bedroom house in New Jersey.

Alyssa lives in a small wooden house with her family in Appalachia.

8-year-old Ahkohxet belongs to the Kraho tribe and lives in Brazil's Amazon basin.

9-year-old Dong shares a room with his parents, sister and grandfather, growing rice and sugar cane in China's Yunnan Province.

9-year-old Delanie aspires to be a fashion designer and lives with her parents and younger siblings in a large house in New Jersey.

9-year-old Tsvika and his siblings share a bedroom in an apartment in the West Bank, in a gated Orthodox Jewish community known as Beitar Illit.

9-year-old Jamie shares a top-floor apartment on New York's Fifth Avenue with his parents and three siblings. The family's two other homes are in Spain and the Hamptons.

10-year-old Ryuta is a champion sumo-wrestler living in Tokyo with his family.

12-year-old Lamine sleeps in a room shared with several other boys in the Koranic school in their Senegalese village.

11-year-old Joey, who killed his first deer when he was seven, lives in Kentucky with his family.

14-year-old Irkena is a member of the semi-nomadic Rendille tribe in Kenya and lives with his mother in a temporary homestead in the Kaisut Desert.

14-year-old Prena is a domestic worker in Nepal and lives in a cell-like room in the attic of the house where she works in Katmandu.

14-year-old Erien slept on the floor of her favela abode in Rio de Janeiro until the late stages of her pregnancy.

15-year-old Risa is training to be a geisha and shares a teahouse with 13 women in Kyoto, Japan.

Mollisey is represented by MAP and Flatland Gallery, and published by Chris Boot.

Where Children Sleep is reminiscent of Peter Menzels’s voyeuristic tours of the world through people’s diets and possessions, and JeongMee Yoon’s look at the conditioning of children’s gender identity through the color schemes of their bedrooms. The book’s glow-in-the-dark cover, a-la Radioactive, is a wonderfully playful cherry on top.

All images courtesy of James Mollison via The New York Times

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08 AUGUST, 2011

Letters to Children from Cultural Icons on the Love of Libraries

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A reading manifesto from Dr. Seuss, or what space ships have to do with fairy godmothers and civil rights.

In the spring of 1971, just before the opening of Michigan’s first public library in Troy, an audacious librarian by the name of Marguerite Hart set out to inspire the city’s youngsters to read and love the library. So she dreamed up a letter-writing campaign, inviting dozens of cultural luminaries — writers, actors, musicians, politicians, artists — to share what made reading special for them and speak to the importance of libraries. She got 97 letters in return, spanning 50 states and a multitude of occupations, including notes from such icons as Dr. Seuss, Neil Armstrong, E.B. White and Isaac Asimov. The collection became known as Letters to the Children of Troy and is available online in its entirety, from beloved children’s book illustrator Edward Ardizzone’s four-page hand-written letter, to the charming doodle of artist Hardie Gramatky, to the marvelous letterheads of various state senators. Gathered here are a few favorites from it, with a semi-secret wish that some thoughtful indie publisher would turn this into a beautiful book that belongs in a library.

Dear Children of Troy

Your library is more full of good things than a candy store or a pirate’s chest. What you get from books is not only pleasurable and valuable but it lasts all the rest of your life.

I send my love to all of you.” ~ Ben Spock

A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books… A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your questions answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people — people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” ~ E.B. White

Dear Boys and Girls:

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway to a better and happier and more useful life.” ~ Isaac Asimov

This note from the Mayor of Cleveland makes one wish today’s government would be full of more people like him.

As a young person, I was encouraged by my mother, my teachers and librarians to read for recreation, for information and for knowledge. Let me encourage you, as they encouraged me; for this country, despite all its failures and present inconsistencies, does promise and deliver much to those who prepare themselves.” ~ Carl B. Stokes

Here’s Helen Gurley Brown, one of the longest-tenured magazine editors-in-chief in history, spearheading Cosmopolitan for 32 years, also the author of the 1962 cult-classic, Sex and the Single Girl:

Dear Children:

Did you ever think of all the people you could be meeting at your library? Why — acrobats, singers, baseball players, knights in armour, kings, queens, elephants, dolls, jacks-in-the-box, angels, fairy godmothers, actors, astronauts, tuba-players — in fact, anyone you wish, through books!

You’ll never forget these friends of fantasy-land once you know what warm companions they are. Happy exploring!” ~ Helen Gurley Brown

And the governor of Vermont, with a timely sentiment on empathy and civil rights just as women and blacks were beginning to enter the workforce with critical mass:

Read! It is nourishing, civilizing, worthwhile. Read! It destroys our ignorance and our prejudices. Read! It teaches us to understand our fellowman better and, once we understand him, it will be much easier to love him and work with him in a daily more complex society.” ~ Deane Davis

My favorite has to be Neil Armstrong:

Knowledge is fundamental to all human achievement and progress. It is both the key and the quest that advances mankind. The search for knowledge is what brought men to the moon; but it took knowledge already acquired to make it possible to get there.

How we use the knowledge we gain determines our progress on earth, in space or on the moon. Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.” ~ Neil Armstrong

Explore the full collection in the Letters to the Children of Troy archive and, while you’re at it, consider donating to your public library. (Every month, I allocate a portion of Brain Pickings donations to the New York Public Library.)

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08 AUGUST, 2011

Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art

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What cubism and Lewis Carroll have to do with the foundations of modern photojournalism.

There’s something about photography that makes its fundamental ethos spill over into a multitude of disciplines and resonate on a deep human level. In 1989, Brooks Johnson set out to unearth that x-factor by hunting down the writings of yesteryear’s greatest photographers and asking the era’s greatest living ones to reach within and extract the essence of their art. The result was Photography Speaks: 66 Photographers on Their Art, followed by Photography Speaks II: 76 Photographers on Their Art in 1995 and the 2004 crown jewel, Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art — a remarkable anthology of micro-essays by icons like Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Eadweard Muybridge, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and a wealth more. Each glorious double-page spread features one image from each photographer on the right-hand page, facing biographical background and a short, insightful personal reflection on the left.

Ilse Bing, American (b. Germany), 1899-1998

John Guttman, American (b. Germany), 1905-1998

Jan Groover, American, 1943-

Besides the rockstar photographers, the tome is also sprinkeld with cross-disciplinary surprises, creators like Lewis Carroll, René Magritte and David Hockney better-known for an art other than photography but whose photographic pursuits are nonetheless unmissable works of art.

Almost all cubist pictures are about things close to us. They don’t jump off the wall at you. You have to go to them, and look, and look. The camera does not bring anything close to you; it’s only more of the same void that we see. This is also true of television, and the movies. Between you and the screen there’s a window, you’re simply looking through a window. Cubism is a much more involved form of vision. It’s a better way of depicting reality, and I think it’s a truer way. It’s harder for us to see because it seems to contradict what we believe to be true. People complain that when they see a portrait of Picasso where, for instance, somebody has three eyes! It’s much simpler than that. It’s not that the person had three eyes, it’s that one of the eyes was seen twice. This reads the same way in my photographs. The fact that people can read photographs in this way made me think we’ve been deceived by the single photograph—by this image of one split second, in one fixed spot. I now see this fault in all photographs, and I can tell when drawings or paintings have been made from photographs. You can sense when the picture is not felt through space.” ~ David Hockney

From the practicalities of photography to the grandest theories of art, Photography Speaks is an extraordinary time-capsule for the cognition and emotion that fueled history’s most timeless and influential photographs, a rare backdoor into the minds of the creators who envisioned them and brought them to life.

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