So let’s talk about Canadian Photographer, Jonathan Hobin and his series of photographs “In the Playroom”. For the back story first check out the video from Yahoo. Then, if you dare to peek at the images scroll to the bottom of the page after the article to view the slideshow or check them out here on Design Boom. Long story short: children are posing “playing” re-enactments of current (over the last 50 years) tragic events.
Upon first look, I am disturbed. That’s it. That’s all I feel. Disturbed. Which is scary and makes me think I have been desensitized–then I remember the real fear I had when Suspect #2 in the Boston Bombings was on the loose–and I feel better(?).
The video shows the photo of the 9-11 re-enactment and I think “wow that’s messed up”. Then, it glosses over the Kim Jong Il photo and I think “that’s pretty tame” (meh). Finally, I take a close look at the entire gallery of photos (at the bottom of the page) and am flooded by a whole slew of emotions. The first thing that comes to mind is “this is sick–really sick”. The second thing that comes to mind is “this is real life”.
The images are provocative. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be? Doesn’t art typically push the boundaries of comfort zones? Yes. Let’s start with why this is so disturbing. Kids. He used kids. This wouldn’t even be a talking point if he used adults. End of story. People would call it inappropriate and shocking—but I doubt it would have resulted in the amount of backlash that it is currently receiving. (Also, evidently people are calling Hobin a pedophile–I don’t see that in these photos.)
I think some of what Hobin says in the video deserves some consideration. He talks about how research shows that children are tactile learners (as a teacher I can confirm this), he also notes that many children find re-enactment through play therapeutic and a way to work through the event and come to sort of an understanding. We know that role-playing can assist in further understanding and emotional closure. Many children’s therapists use play to work through issues with small children (I mean c’mon you’ve seen Law & Order: SVU–no but seriously they do). He makes the point that as children we may have played Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians–and equates that (sort of) to his photographs. Through his work he is asking the consumer to stretch their mind.
Our children are growing up in a world of highly televised violence, real and pretend–they are consumers of “real life”. We may shield them from the direct news in the home but we can’t do anything to stop the word from spreading on the playground. These types of events weigh heavy on our their minds (all our minds really).
As a minor, I can clearly remember a handful of tragic, highly televised disturbing events: OJ Simpson Murder Trial, Columbine, the Murder of JonBenet Ramsey, and September 11th. The footage from these events was run over and over again—people were forced to talk to their children about uncomfortable but very real dangers. I remember the footage from 9-11 was on a loop for what seemed like months, and then the ground zero footage began–Hobin even notes that he himself knew “We are never going to be able to get away from these images”. Newspapers everywhere had photos of people jumping from the towers to their death just to escape the flames (personally, I found that the most disturbing), the video of the second plane upon impact was ingrained in my mind, and the audio of the phone calls of United Airlines 93 haunted my dreams at night.
I don’t know if I incorporated these events in to my play—but I do remember I was frightened by all these things–and wanted to know WHY these things could happen? Would I re-enact cops and robbers, pretend I was some sort of GI Jane, play cowboys and Indians? Yes. Is it the same? I’m not sure. Growing up I was removed from war (we weren’t in one), growing up I was removed from violence (if you’d asked me, the scariest part of a police officer’s job in my town was filing out an accident report), growing up I was removed Cowboys and Indians (we didn’t live in the Wild Wild West–and I had never met a real Cowboy or Indian)—none of those things were real to me—they were merely a fictitious fantasy—light years away from my reality. Perhaps these kids in the photos are far enough removed from these events to be traumatized from posing for these pictures? Far enough removed to be unaffected or even desensitized?
Aside from these “real-life events” there is a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of fictitious violence on television and in movies. Think back to some of the big blockbuster films from the last year–The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and SkyFall (Top 4 Highest Grossing Films according to BoxOfficeMojo). Is it any wonder that Hobin finds his images in-line with Pop Culture? And don’t even get me started on the video games–seriously.
Part of me thinks, these photos are no different than when popular television series tackle breaking-news. After Columbine, many shows tested the waters with portraying a school shooting to various extents (One Tree Hill, Glee, Degrassi), perhaps this is their way of helping their older viewers cope with the tragedy, much like a child may be able to cope through play, by watching the characters they look up to work through the same types of situations? I know it’s a stretch but consider it.
Since Baby T has been born it feels like the violence has increased exponentially—we’ve had the Aurora Massacre, Newtown Shooting, Boston Bombing and Mother’s Day Parade Shooting. He’s only been alive 15 months. The world is changing. It’s a scary place for our children. I am going to have to explain things much more complex than “don’t talk to strangers” to my son at a very young age.
Did the photos accomplish what all good art sets out to do: get you thinking? It got me thinking. I am less disturbed by the images and more disturbed by what they represent: the world my kid is growing up in.
What do you think of these photographs? Disturbing? Terrifying? Don’t see what the fuss is about? I’d love to hear your take on them!
Not trying to ruffle your feathers,
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