What first drew me to the above James Mollison’s pictures (from his Where Children Sleep essay) was that it looks like what my bedroom could have looked like as a preteen. The posters, flounce-y bed coverings, and reminiscent baby doll displays the transition between childhood and teen years, similar to what most Americans are used to in regards to a preteen girl’s bedroom.
The photo set examines Thais, an eleven year old girl from City of God, Brazil. From some quick Googling, City of God, or Cidade de Deus, is a neighborhood of one of Brazil’s largest cities, Rio de Janeiro. Historically, City of God has been a location of favelas, or shanty towns, and gang violence.
With this background information, Thais’s room is even more alluring because it portrays the juxtaposition of home-life and social life. We know nothing about Thais other than what her room looks like. We do not know if she or her family is involved in gangs or if she or they are trying to prevent gang involvement in the neighborhood. All we know is that Thais is a fan of Felipe Dylon, a Brazilian pop singer who reached heart-throb status in 2002, and her bedroom window looks out over green trees. Because of the lack of context, the audience is instructed to make their own assumptions.
This photo set fits into the rest of James Mollison’s photo essay because, even though Thais’s room looks very similar to an average American preteen girl, background information about the setting and location of the person of interest changes the perception of the image. All we really know about her is her name, her age, where she lives, and that she (presumably) looks up to a heart-throb pop singer.
This photo of the Highland Park Police Station, as featured in “The Ruins of Detroit,” is quite compelling. As an Administration of Justice major, this image, in particular, caught my attention. The idea of the police is to protect and serve no matter the situation. When this particular suburb Detroit station was disbanded, the building sat empty. It was broken into and looted. The population in Detroit has been declining since the 1950s. The scene depicted in this photo reminds me of the people of Detroit. The scattered photographs that clutter the table and the papers strewn across the floor represent the disrupted lives of the citizens of Detroit. To leave all of that important information behind, almost seems like a crime in itself. These individuals’ identities and fingerprints were left for any looter to see or take. To see a police station look like this makes me feel insecure and unprotected. The abandonment of this building represents the abandoning of the city and the people of Detroit. The overlapping of the photographs and documents create more depth in this photograph. It makes the viewer want to see the individual items due to the obscuring of some of the objects. From the patterns of the tiles on the walls to the rigid filing cabinets, a place that should be well kept is in disarray. The pattern is broken by all of the scattered papers, the peeling paint, and the out of place cabinets and chair. This image fits perfectly into the photo essay of “The Ruins of Detroit.” The collection of photographs in this photo essay display Detroit after abandonment. The apartment buildings, the hotels, the schools, and the churches are all staples in “normal” communities. For this community to have these important buildings in such bad conditions, makes me empathize with the people living there. Their lives have been turned upside down and I could not imagine walking through a “ghost town” like the one Detroit has become.
Upon first glancing at this photo, I really only had two questions. One: what four year-old could possibly need, or even utilize this many toys; and two: where does she sleep??
The image you are now looking at is that of four year-old Kaya; an adorable little girl from Japan.
After furtter thought two other ideas struck me, both regarding what lessons the world is teaching its children of today, the expectations they’ll have for life and the overall lack of motivation and discipline they will inevitably develop because of these teachings.
The idea that initially came to mind was the content of Kaya’s room. Dresses, dolls, bunnies of every variety, play kitchen sets, etc. It made me think of Disney Princesses and the gender stereotypes that are often times permeated upon little girls.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved Disney. All the movies, all the musicals, everything. But in my heart I have always held a special place for princesses. At almost twenty-two years of age, I can proudly say that this is still the case. However, within the past year or so, I began closely analyzing the gender stereotypes created by these portrayals of women, inquiring about the potential implications these female characters (Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Mulan, Jasmine, Tatiana), might have on the young girls who idolize them. The text of “Disney Princesses” functions to create a variety of meanings within culture; all of which focus around the image that a “proper” woman is expected to embody. In many ways I believe that a syntagmatic structure is what is commonly found within the stories of the Disney Princesses. Inevitably we expect that she [the princess] will meet and fall in love with a handsome prince; endure some kind of hardship and overcome all obstacles; live happily ever after. It is what we expect. Now, here are some characteristics that we typically align with a princess: remarkable beauty; a dainty, petite, fragile figure; musically talent or inclination/ skill in a particular art; role of the damsel in distress or homemaker; often awaiting the arrival of prince in “shining armor” (metaphorically speaking) to come to the rescue.
And given that there are no books, no journals, or any other item that might symbolize that Kaya is being taught from an early age, to be concerned with anything other than dolls, I will assume that these stereotypes have already taken root in her young life. (Again, this is just my opinion.)
Revisiting my first question (why does a four year-old have this much stuff?), I couldn’t help but think of the worlds younger generations and reflect on how the ideas of “manifest destiny” and “instant graticifcation” have become a natural part of their mindsets. Looking at Kaya’s room of toys, filled with more than some children may ever see in a lifetime, I see the proof of this. Will she ever know what it’s like to work for her toys? Will she ever be able to empathize with the kids from Nepal who lived in what resembled a prison, and had nothing more to their name than a pair of shoes and book? This picture, above all else, represents the disparity among social classes. I was in awed, saddened and disgusted all at once.
Placement in the Series
Having just completed a photography course during my semester abroad with a rather remarkable instructor, I have come to understand how important it is that images, compiled into a photographic essay, maintain a certain flow or relevance to one another. After carefully analyzing the rest of the series, here is what I discovered. Kaya’s room is one of two Japanese bedrooms featured within the series. Though one of the youngest featured children, she by far owns the largest number of toys, clothes and other materialistic items, that one would expect to find in a young girl’s room. However, as you sift through the remaining photos, you’ll see that many of the children have almost nothing in their room (bed included). Each child’s room is filled with the things that are imortant to their culture or everyday lifestyle. Speaking of culture, I found the busyness of the room and the patterns of Kaya’s clothing to be representative of the types of trends and fashion that is commonplace in Japan. You might not see it anywhere else, but you’ll find it here. (Sidenote: the only other room that even slightly resembles Kaya’s is the one that belongs to the other Japanese girl who is featured.)
Given the vast number of items in Kaya’s room, it is rather difficult to apply the rule of thirds. However, I will admit that my eye, after adjusting to the ‘loudness’ of the photo, was most drawn to the dress that sits on a tiny mannequin; similar to what you might see in store’s display window. I must again reference the insane amount of items (dresses, dolls, trinkets) that fill the room, I would say that there is a lack of balance to the elements that appear in the photo. However, I interpret this as artistic genius. The photographer is capturing a dead-on, frontal view of the room that emphasized the busyness of it all, leaving nothing out. By doing so, he successfully captures what I would best describe as “organized chaos”. As an onlooker, I feel almost overwhelmed, and can’t help but wonder how this four year old girl manages to function in this crowded space.
Despite the girlish chaos, I was surprised to locate this next photographic element in the photo: leading lines. The eye is naturally drawn to the vertical lines created by what we assume are white, wooden organizers, which line (no pun intended) the back wall of Kaya’s room. This is the only section of her room where I might locate any kind of symmetry; in that there are 6 columns of organizaers. However, this term is being used very loosely because the items that sit on each of these shelving units differentiate from one another entirely.
I believe the photographer chose not to frame or crop the image in away that gave the photo any visible barriers or limits. If one were to even just briefly glance at the image they would see that the row of dresses hanging in the closet seems endless the beautifully decorated boxes. filled perhaps with house shoes or even more toys, are cut off. I believe the artist hoped to make the room and its contents appear as though they were literally spilling off the page- that’s how expansive Kaya’s collection of trinkets and toys is. If this was the idea, then they were highly successful.