Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

Where Children Sleep

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: sleep, bedroom, photo essay, photography, portraiture, James Mollison, arts and culture, Will Wlizlo,

bookcover-small“Sleep is a reward for some, a punishment for others. For all, it is a sanction.”—French modernist poet  Isidore Ducasse Comte De Lautréamont.

What shapes a child’s mind, personality, and future? Genetics? Environment? Education? A new clue may lie where the child lays their head to rest.

“When Fabrica [Benetton’s creative laboratory] asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom,” writes photographer James Mollison, “how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was.”

Mollison is a Kenyan-born English photographer whose portraiture often focuses on people from the global South. His latest project, a children’s book called Where Children Sleep (published by Chris Boot), takes portraits of youngsters from all over the world and from different walks of life and juxtaposes them with a picture of their bedroom—or, in some cases, what approximates as one.

When presented in combo, Mollison’s diptychs show more than a child’s health and sleeping arrangements. The juxtapositions expose systemic differences among cultures, economies, classes, and lifestyles. At the same time, the photographs remind us of the universality of humanity. Writes Mollison:

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 the set of portraits as individuals, as equals—just as children.


Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan 


 Joey, 11, Kentucky, USA 


Alex, 9, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 


 Jaime, 9, New York, USA 


 Lamine, 12, Bounkiling village, Senegal 


Images courtesy of James Mollison.