how do children play?…a brilliant photojournal

mollisoncoveraperturePlayground, by James Mollison
published in 2015 by Aperture

James Mollison is an amazing photojournalist — insightful, talented, persevering, with a rich, global perspective. 

His latest offering, Playground, is a work he has pursued since at least 2009, and as with his title Where Children Sleep, although children aren’t his primary audience, they can enjoy, appreciate, and respond to it as well as adults. I found it fascinating.

Mollison has photographed the school playgrounds of almost 60 schools around the world, from private London schools to schools of refugees on the West Bank, and from Norwegian island communities to Sierra Leonean slums. 

Playground 2 by James mollison

In them, we observe many elements, from the varying landscapes and settings in which children attend school, to the striking similarities and differences in the ways children interact with one another during their free play time. 

Mollison/Playground - PB

These are large, full-color, two-page spreads in a coffee-table sized book, and each one rivets our attention and piques our curiosity: What are they playing at? Is this child lonely? What are the kids wearing? What does this terrain and weather feel like? Would I like to be a part of this group? So much fascination and diversity.

For each scene, a small black-and-white line drawing of one figure in the photo is set apart, creating a clever seek-and-find game as well.

playground by james mollison

The whole, beautiful compendium engages us in the wide world, expands our boundaries, and fosters excellent conversation and reflection.


In the end-pages, Mollison tells us a little bit about each school and sometimes what he witnessed as he sat poised to photograph the scene. Some of these bits could be shared with young children. The book’s Foreword, by Jon Ronson, is of interest to teens and older.

Exceptional and highly recommended.