Where Children Sleep

For me, the project became a vehicle to think about issues of poverty and wealth, about the relationship of children to personal possessions, and the power of children – or lack of it – to make decisions about their lives.

James Mollison, 2010
Jivan. Brooklyn, New York

Everyone sleeps, and everyone needs a place to sleep. One of the first things we consider when a baby is born is where she or he will sleep. The sleeping environment people provide for their children is dependent on where in the world they live and their financial circumstances. In this series of pictures from photographer James Mollison’s collection Where Children Sleep we are given a glimpse into the widely diverse circumstances in which children live.

In framing the photographs, Mollison captures more than the stark contrast in material circumstances. Sleeping environments are determined by a number of factors: climate, socio-economic background, culture and personality. Providing warmth, shelter and comfort, sleeping areas are multi-functional. They are used also as places to sit, work, play, cook, entertain guests, do homework, watch TV, raise animals for food or as pets, store toys and display treasured possessions and prizes. For some they are private spaces; for others they are shared with family, school mates, colleagues or livestock. Simply looking at someone’s sleeping environment can tell a lot about their values and priorities, as well as their circumstances.

In the photograph at the top of this page a modern bedroom has been especially created for four-year-old Divan by his mother, an interior designer. Here her priorities are to make good use of space in their New York skyscraper flat and to provide a stimulating environment for her son to develop his creativity.

Rush mats on the mud floor of a twig-roofed hut in the Nepali countryside make a mattress for Jyoti and her sister to sleep on. The open fire provides warmth at night and is used for cooking during the day.

Jyoti. Makwanpur, Napal

For eight-year-old Roathy, who lives in a dump in Cambodia, his bed is made out of whatever his family can re-use from amongst the decomposing rubbish. His mattress has been made out of old tires.

Roathy. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Risa. Kyoto, Japan

This picture is of fifteen-year-old Risa, the youngest maiko in Japan, who lives in a teahouse in Kyoto. The room she shares with five other women is also used as a dining room and tea room. A maiko is a young woman who has been accepted to train as a geisha (hostess). She is learning the traditional arts of tea-making, dancing, singing and playing the Japanese drums to entertain the wealthy male guests who come to the teahouse.

A child’s bedroom in Japan

The picture above shows a floor covered by Japanese tatami mats. This is a floor mat made from a layer of compressed rice straw covered with woven rushes. It provides a surface for exercise and sleep. A thin mattress called a futon is laid on top of the tamami mat and rolled away the next day. In this video from the YouTube site Life Where I’m From, a Japanese girl shows us insider her bedroom.


The rest of Mollison’s collection can be viewed here. His book, Where Children Sleep, is available on Amazon here.

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