When photographer James Mollison set out to capture different school playgrounds across the world, he was surprised by something that in retrospect was obvious but which hadn’t occurred to him before.
From hand clapping to rougher, physical games, genuine laughter to tears of jealousy, fights and bullying, Mollison discovered an incredible universality in the way that kids play and communicate. Mollison captured that variety of intense interaction on all 59 school playgrounds from 17 countries and across five years.“There was something similar in the way younger kids played,” Mollison said. About three-quarters of the schools in his book are primary schools.
“I think when you’re younger, you haven’t learned fully to deal with your emotions and anger and happiness, so there [was] sometimes more going on with the younger ones.”
Mollison conceived the idea for this project, “Playgrounds,” while reflecting back to his time at school and remembering the wide range of experiences and emotions.
“I remember it being a place of fun games, joy and running around – but it also being kind of a quite scary place,” Mollison said. “It was a place where we’d kind of argue and get into fights and jealousy and all that kind of thing. I thought it might be interesting photographically to look at that.”
“I was born in Kenya and lived there until I was 5, so I’ve always been intrigued,” Mollison said. “There was just something mesmerizing about it when the kids just burst out at the moment of the bell – suddenly you kind of have this invasion of children and noise.”
The weight he puts on these tiny moments is clear in illustrator Patrick Waterhouse’s tiny drawings in the book. The duo adopted the concept of “Where’s Waldo?” by having Waterhouse draw a single moment from each playground next to the image.
“We wanted to come up with a way for people to look into the photos because quite often there’s a lot happening in them,” Mollison said.