A small stone dwelling clinging to a mountainside in Nepal. A tent in Mongolia with no protection from industrial toxins. And a spacious house in America threatened by wildfire.
It is nearly a quarter century since Mollison published his first book of images showing the diverse living conditions of children around the globe. Volume 2 illuminates the homes, hopes and fears of 73 young people in 33 countries across five continents.
Each spread shows an image of a child opposite a photograph of the space they live in – many don’t have a bedroom – accompanied by a story told in their own words. The effect is to offer a snapshot of childhood in a world inhabited by 8.1 billion people and affected by climate change, the migrant crisis, inequality and conflict.
“Over the years, this project has taught me that having a bedroom cannot be taken for granted,” says Mollison, now based in Venice with his wife and child. “My experience of having a ‘bedroom’ simply doesn’t apply to so many kids. Millions of families around the world sleep together in one room, and millions of children sleep where it is convenient rather than a place they can in any sense call their own room. I came to appreciate just how privileged I was to have had a personal space to sleep in and grow.
“It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances – the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other – while the children themselves would appear in their portraits as individuals, as equals, as children who are born into their circumstances and are not responsible for them.”
Born in Kenya and brought up in the UK, Mollison moved to Italy after university to work at Fabrica, the creative lab of fashion label Benetton, later becoming creative editor of Colors magazine. In 2009 he received the RPS Vic Odden Award for notable achievement in the art of photography by a British photographer aged 35 or under.
Here, we introduce four children featured in Where Children Sleep Vol 2.
Sager, 3 (main image)
Sager lives with his parents and older brother in northern Nepal, one of the remotest areas in the country, straddling the Himalayan mountains. The family belong to the Dalit community, previously known as ‘untouchables’, the lowest in the Hindu caste system.
Sager’s home is a smallstone dwelling perched 3,800m high on a steep mountain side, sheltered by an overhanging cliff face. There is also a pen for the 200 goats which his father herds to a grazing area every day. He must always remain vigilant to protect them from snow leopard attacks.
Sager’s father previously worked in the Middle East but decided to return because his employers never paid him what they promised. When he turns five, Sager will go to school. He will have an hour-long walk down the mountain accompanied only by his brother, who is one year older than him. His mother’s dream is for her sons to have an education, something she was denied.
Tsengelmaa lives in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, which has one of the highest levels of winter air pollution in the world. From December to April, she wears a mask as protection from toxins caused by coal smoke and other industrial emissions, only removing it to eat. When the pollution is very bad, she has to sleep in the mask.
Tsengelmaa lives in a ger, a typical Mongolian tent-like structure with a coal or wood-burning stove in the centre for cooking and heating. On their compound there are two gers and two houses where her cousins and grandparents live. The only toilet is a 15 metre walk away, so Tsengelmaa does not like to use it when it’s dark.
Her family own three Bankhar dogs and five puppies. In Mongolia, Bankhar dogs are thought to have the same spirit as humans and are the only dogs given names. Tsengelmaa would like to become a prosecutor when she is older.
Nemis lives in a ground-floor apartment in Montreal, Canada, with his parents and 15-year-old sister. He enjoys dressing up, a passion that began when he was two years old. When he was seven, his sister started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. He was fascinated by the grace of the performers and wanted to emulate them by putting on make-up and trying out new looks.
He goes by the stage name, Lactatia, but changes it to Menstracia when he is in a bad mood. He has also started taking voguing lessons and entered a Vogue Ball, winning the First Time in Drag category. When RuPaul’s Werq the World Tour came to Montreal, Nemis went along in full drag and was invited on stage. Nemis hopes to become a drag queen when he is older, or a teacher who dresses in drag. Some classmates think he is ‘super cool’ but many do not understand why he loves drag.
Ryker lives with his family outside Los Angeles, USA. He was born prematurely and spent his first 96 days in an incubator. Despite having medical insurance that covered 80% of the costs, Ryker’s parents were presented with a $2,000,000 bill. They are still fighting the insurance companies over payments.
He has cerebral palsy, a condition affecting movement and coordination, and Horner syndrome which affects his sight, so he has a service dog. Ryker wears a helmet at recess because of his balance and the other children in his class think it’s cool and want one too. He is friendly and outgoing.
The family live in a five-bedroomed house in an area frequently affected by fires. A recent wildfire reached the back fence and the heat cracked their swimming pool. They only had ten minutes to grab whatever they could, but Ryker decided to take some clothes and not his beloved Star Wars toys. They lived in a hotel for a month.
All images by James Mollison.
Where Children Sleep Vol 2 by James Mollison is published by Hoxton Mini Press.
The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here.