In The Playroom
May 9, 2011 11:24 PM   Subscribe

Canadian photographer Jonathan Hobin's In the Playroom series depicts children reenacting infamous tragedies, such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Princess Diana's death, and the Jonestown massacre.

From Hobin: "In the Playroom is a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media. The quizzical disposition of youth and the pervasive nature of the media are symbolically represented in my images through tableau-vivant re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world. Just as children make a game of pretending to be adults as a way to prepare and ultimately take on these roles in later life, so too do they explore things that they hear or see, whether or not they completely understand the magnitude of the event or the implications of their play."

Though unveiled in fall 2010, the controversial project's use of children as models continues to raise eyebrows. However, Hobin claims "the kids loved it. They had a blast!
posted by changeling (61 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's weirdest to me is that something like Princess Diana's death, even though it was very sad, seems to have the same weight as a "tragic thing that is tragic" as the tsunami or 9/11. (Seems to be weighted similarly by some news outlets, I should say.)

Natalee Holloway, Jon-Benet Ramsey = Katrina and Jonestown? I dunno. Strange.
posted by Neofelis at 11:34 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are apparently some errata in the "artist's" statement. For "symbolically represented," read "cynically exploited." For "a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media," read "a publicity stunt fueled by the very voyeurism that it unconvincingly pretends to critique."
posted by RogerB at 11:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


This is remarkably disturbing. I hope I forget these images.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 11:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is some grade-A snark there RogerB, I heartily approve.
posted by mhjb at 11:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


If he was trying to evoke horror, he's no Anne Geddes.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:41 PM on May 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


I don't know. These don't disturb me. Using children as models feels cheaply exploitative and cliched, maybe. I don't feel like seeing children in these situations adds a whole lot.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:46 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Won't somebody think of the adults!
posted by pompomtom at 11:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


In the Playroom is a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media. The quizzical disposition of youth and the pervasive nature of the media are symbolically represented in my images through tableau-vivant re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world. Just as children make a game of pretending to be adults as a way to prepare and ultimately take on these roles in later life, so too do they explore things that they hear or see, whether or not they completely understand the magnitude of the event or the implications of their play.

Shut the fuck up.
posted by Ratio at 11:51 PM on May 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


"American Idol" disturbs me the most. It's the underwear around her ankles. And maybe because it's a child depicting another child. Too close to the real thing.
posted by changeling at 11:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Natalee Holloway, Jon-Benet Ramsey = Katrina and Jonestown? I dunno. Strange.

Isn't the idea that they are all news stories that kids could find distressing?

re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world

So Diana is in there because it's a story about a death involving a princess. Jon-Benet Ramsey because she was a kid. Jonestown at least in part because of the number of kids involved. The theme isn't "disasters" so much as "news stories that could upset kids".

I don't know if it's any good though or even what it's trying to say.
posted by GeckoDundee at 11:59 PM on May 9, 2011


My next piece of performance art will be me beating this joker to death with a shovel to protest against the Corn Laws.
posted by joannemullen at 12:05 AM on May 10, 2011


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:10 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shocking sort of only because of the use of children but on the whole a somewhat tepid enterprise reminiscent of grad show work at its parboiled best. How about this image by photographer William Klein as a way of thinking about the relation between shock, effect, and children?
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:17 AM on May 10, 2011


Well, I guess I won't be taking the kids over the Hobin's for their Osama Assasination play-date. You really do have to be careful who you meet on craigslist.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:19 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


On his site (first link), in Portraiture, the second-to-last picture must be from the baddest-ass architect firm in the fucking world.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:27 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh to be a kid again. It's always hard to realize just how little we know about what happened in the world before we were born, before we were 10 even. How much is this different from this Robert E Lee costume? Or playing with Vietnam era army men.

Imagination is more powerful than the media. Play is the sort of deconstruction that still scares adults, which I support.
posted by nutate at 12:39 AM on May 10, 2011


Oh, sour grapes, I think they're lovely. The children aren't creep motors like everyone seems to assume they are, they are cute props in a wider concept indicative of darker things moving about freely in our culture.
posted by Mooseli at 12:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't waste my breath worrying aloud about the kiddies. Kids play death and dismemberment games all the time -- think of Halloween, for example, or playing war. I'm sure the models liked doing this stuff and that it didn't hurt them any more than anything else they might do for fun. If anything, it was probably good for them.

And I wouldn't waste my breath trying to explain it or to decide whether it fairly represents the world. Despite the bone the artist throws to those who always demand an explanation on a little card next to every piece in the gallery, it's visual art. You look at it and you like looking at it or you don't like looking at it, but you look at it as something to look at, not as some sort of logical essay you can analyze and disprove.
posted by pracowity at 12:47 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, cmon.
posted by basicchannel at 12:55 AM on May 10, 2011


they are cute props

Well, exactly. Only, in real life, they're something a bit more than that.
posted by torticat at 1:29 AM on May 10, 2011


> What's weirdest to me is that something like Princess Diana's death, even though it was
> very sad, seems to have the same weight as a "tragic thing that is tragic" as the tsunami or
> 9/11.

It was the end of my world. Until that happened I was pretty convinced in that juvenile way I had in those days that just about everyone agreed with me.
posted by vbfg at 1:46 AM on May 10, 2011


Not so much disturbing as unoriginal and poorly executed. Unlike the recently discussed Green Army Men with PTSD, the context switching does nothing.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Please to pose a small bald child on a bridge with hands on cheeks and mouth in silent scream to express my shock and outrage.
posted by chavenet at 3:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a little heavy handed - especially the Natalee Halloway one - I never would have recognized it if not for the T-shirts saying "Lose yourself in Aruba" and "Have a great Halloway"
posted by fermezporte at 3:41 AM on May 10, 2011


And such is the Battle of Pearl Harbor, reenacted for us now by the women of the Battley Townswomen's Guild.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I, for one, had forgotten about the dinosaurs and teddy bears on 9/11. Never forget. The dinosaurs.
posted by ColdChef at 5:10 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


They made me think that the photographer is a horrible person. Then I laughed a little at some of them. Then I thought the photographer was an even more horrible person.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:12 AM on May 10, 2011


What is the 39 lashes representing? Googling the title only gives me biblical references. I never heard about the Holloway one so that was half a mystery.
posted by harriet vane at 5:18 AM on May 10, 2011


What is the 39 lashes representing?

I don't know whether this is anything close to the the artist's intent, but:
For example, one photo, a play on the death of the disgraced TV evangelist and cosmetological freak Tammy Faye Baker, shows a Holy Bible designed by Louis Vuitton — a piercing shot at the Bakers’ lavish and ungodly lifestyle. Only later did I notice the same LV design on the sleeping blinders worn by a pure white teddy bear next to the hospital bed; here is innocence, blinded to, or perhaps by, the earthly greed of supposed spiritual leaders.
posted by pracowity at 5:26 AM on May 10, 2011


Seems a little disturbing and exploitative, but what do I know?
posted by crunchland at 5:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't these children have parents?

I want to have a chat with the one that thought it was fine to pose their daughter with her underwear around her ankles and noose around her neck. I bet that the kid isn't thinking about it now, but in ten years she is going to be profoundly creeped out.
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:41 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]



In the Playroom is a metaphor for the impossibility of a protective space safe from the reach of modern media. The quizzical disposition of youth and the pervasive nature of the media are symbolically represented in my images through tableau-vivant re-enactments of the very current events that adults might wish to keep out of their child’s world. Just as children make a game of pretending to be adults as a way to prepare and ultimately take on these roles in later life, so too do they explore things that they hear or see, whether or not they completely understand the magnitude of the event or the implications of their play.


And and... and like, what if all adults are like, also children in the same sense?

God, I would hate to meet this person and have to find a way to awkwardly change the subject to anything but his shit work.
posted by odinsdream at 5:51 AM on May 10, 2011


I don't know how many of us here actually remember being a child, but children are actually pretty fascinated by this kind of shit. They learn pretty fast not to indulge in it with adults watching because the adults get angry, but really it is a huge topic in play and make-believe. Once upon a time stories for children were pretty explicit about these kind of themes too.

Bad things happen. We find out about them and try to make some kind of sense of them. Even children. Yeah a model in a photographic project is some kind of prop and object. That goes with the territory. But there are interesting things to explore here, and I don't see any signs that the artist is mistreating his models.
posted by idiopath at 6:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I bet that the kid isn't thinking about it now, but in ten years she is going to be profoundly creeped out.

Sure, if you keep pointing to the picture and telling her she should feel creeped out instead of dismissing it as silly playacting.
posted by scrowdid at 6:17 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


idiopath has it. At the time that the incidents depicted actually happened, I would bet you a lunch that this very kind of "play" was going on, to some extent, in more than a few living rooms and day cares and parks and backyards and play dates. It's just that there was no photographer around to take pictures.

Play is sometimes how kids process heavy shit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on May 10, 2011


Play is sometimes how kids process heavy shit.

Yeah, I distinctly remember Sindy tending to the radiation burns me and my sister had drawn on Action Man's face, and both of them vainly trying to contact other survivors of the global nuclear war over their CB radio.

Kids today have it easy with their paedos and terrorists, in my day we fully expected the entire world to end before we were eight, in a way that involved everyone's hair falling out and skin falling off.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed the photographs - they're fun! - despite the artist's statements.
posted by jack_mo at 6:47 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm admittedly abnormal. But I liked these.

Lynndie England was once the age of the girl in that photograph. Someone or something failed to keep her from... well, let's call it her "rendezvous with destiny".

I believe we would be well served to figure out who or what it was. If "A Boo Grave" starts us thinking about it, it's already accomplished more than 99% of the other art that will be produced this year.
posted by Trurl at 6:54 AM on May 10, 2011


Now matter how squicky some of these may be, they are worth it for the Jonestown one.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 7:00 AM on May 10, 2011


I think it's funny that a lot of the reaction here is of the 'think of the innocent children' variety, because it seems to me that that's exactly the point of the project. I mean, yeah, I hate it too when artists' statements include the words 'metaphor' and 'symbolically,' because dude, if it's a metaphor it doesn't need to be explained, that's what that is, but read the damn thing, folks. The project is about a media culture that obsesses on some terrible shit and that kids are exposed to whether we want them to be or not. If two little boys are traumatized by airliners smashing into skyscrapers, it isn't because of Canadian photographer Jonathan Hobin.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:04 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Play is sometimes how kids process heavy shit.

But this isn't really play. It's a staged photograph, meant to look as if it were play. That changes things for me.

It's one thing to happen to shoot pictures of children playacting out something like this... It's another thing to get a bunch of kids, place them in the tableau, and then take the picture.

I'm not sure what to think of the photos yet. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that these are staged... But, well, it does make a difference, whatever that difference is.
posted by meese at 7:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Complain that you're traumatizing or exploiting kids...I knew about the Jon-Benet thing in detail around when it happened (which would've made me 10 or so). Think her death was actually important, or was it just constantly exploited for the horror/sleaze factor?

With 9-11, we watched it on TV in our school practically while it was happening. We saw the towers collapse. The news replayed it constantly. You couldn't avoid it if you had a TV.

If anything, these are more pleasant versions (some of them even include candy!)
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:25 AM on May 10, 2011


But this isn't really play. It's a staged photograph, meant to look as if it were play. That changes things for me. It's one thing to happen to shoot pictures of children playacting out something like this... It's another thing to get a bunch of kids, place them in the tableau, and then take the picture.

So your objection is to the fact that they were modeling something, period? It's a fair point, but I think it's an important distinction to make.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2011


I hate these. Yes, I'm sure the children involved are fine. I don't object to the use of children. I object to the slick, vapid, faddish style of these pictures. Look at the kids making their "Serious Child in Art Photograph" faces. Look at the hypersaturated colors and the Serious Professional Lighting. Look at the overstuffed frame full of very carefully chosen and arranged Meaningful Objects. LOOK AT THE ART! it all screams. Tiresome, empty of affect or meaning, purely an exercise in the formal arrangement of stuff and the masturbatory practice of technique.

The picture Phlegmco posted above is a perfect contrast. It has something actually human in it.
posted by rusty at 7:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is really sick.
posted by freakazoid at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2011


The Serious Professional Lighting bugs me too. Photos all seem to be lit the same way right now, following a formula.

I really like the Jonestown one, though. I don't actually mind the Abu Ghraib and Jon-Benet ones either, which surprises me a bit. The rest leave me a bit cold though, and I'm not sure what the difference is. It's not the relevance of the photos to my life or interest in the topic, because I never followed the Jon-Benet case and didn't recognise several other pics, but I knew people affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, am fascinated by Jonestown, and have spent a lot of time thinking about 9-11 since it happened.
posted by harriet vane at 7:57 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see these being very far removed from the green army guys with post traumatic stress disorder that we saw a few days ago. There will always be something problematic about representing tragedy in art, and I appreciate when artists highlight that problem -- in fact, make the problem the subject of the art -- rather than try to minimize it.

Additionally, we get so used to iconic images of tragedy that they fail to shock us anymore. These pictures are pretty effective at re-sensitizing us. There's a lot going on in these images that is worth exploring, especially the artist's fiction that we are supposed to imagine that these dioramas are somehow assembled by the children themselves, and this is how children see, and recreate, tragedy.

And I find the Tammy Faye one unexpectedly heartbreaking.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:02 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So your objection is to the fact that they were modeling something, period? It's a fair point, but I think it's an important distinction to make.

Yeah, I think so.

A lot of the time, I get annoyed when people object to photography for being staged. An example is the recent FPP about photos of girls from around the world in their bedrooms. People complained about the act that the girls were obviously modeling, rather than just standing or sitting like they normally would. I didn't agree with that. There was a point behind the staging, and I was cool with it.

Here's, maybe, what I think: when you stage a photograph, the intention behind the staging is a significant factor in its artistic merit. And so the mere fact that, in these photographs, the subject is a staged form of something that would perhaps happen naturally isn't so important. What matters more is why the photographer decided to stage it in that way. And the photographer's intentions, here, kinda just make me roll my eyes.
posted by meese at 8:04 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: shocked by these deliberately shocking photographs
posted by Nelson at 8:19 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: shocked by these deliberately shocking photographs

C'mon, you've been around here how long and are just realizing that the fish who live in this pond can't wait to stuff the hooks in their mouths?
posted by umberto at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought this was great. Thanks for posting it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:00 AM on May 10, 2011


the recent FPP about photos of girls from around the world in their bedrooms

Where Children Sleep is another take on bedrooms around the world, with younger kids.
posted by changeling at 9:02 AM on May 10, 2011


Photos all seem to be lit the same way right now, following a formula.

It's commercial photography's version of the movie world's teal-and-orange color scheme. Once someone points it out, you start to see it everywhere and it makes all photography look the same. Intellectual/style magazines are full of it.
posted by rusty at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2011


I thank this thread and Phlegmco for introducing me to the work of William Klein.

Just compare this with this.

It's like a time traveling inversion of the point of the FPP.
posted by chavenet at 10:36 AM on May 10, 2011


Sure, if you keep pointing to the picture and telling her she should feel creeped out instead of dismissing it as silly playacting.

You wouldn't find it it a little weird to find this at eighteen in a drawer somewhere? And if you recalled that it was not your parent snapping a photograph of you having fun, but someone you don't know posing you with your underwear around your ankle? And then you realized that it was not just in a drawer, but on the internet?

Maybe I am easily creeped out.
posted by jenlovesponies at 10:54 AM on May 10, 2011


You wouldn't find it it a little weird to find this at eighteen in a drawer somewhere?

This is the risk of any child that does any art that is made by an adult. What about the boy in The Tin Drum who performs cunnilingus on an adult woman? What about Danny in The Shining?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Photos all seem to be lit the same way right now, following a formula.

It's commercial photography's version of the movie world's teal-and-orange color scheme. Once someone points it out, you start to see it everywhere and it makes all photography look the same. Intellectual/style magazines are full of it.


These seem, to me, to be mostly lit with a single very large gridded softbox, or possibly a large parabolic reflector, and in most of them, it appears to be positioned high camera left. In "Diana's Dead", it looks to me as though the (artificial) light source may even be directly overhead. It's a very simple, "safe" lighting setup that has been used for years. I haven't, personally, noticed it as a trend, but I'll keep an eye out.

On the other hand, the two shots that do stand out to me as a bit modish and au courant are "Spring Break" and "The Saints", where the ambient fill is underexposed a couple of stops (so-called "key-shifted ambient") and the key light on the subjects is flash. I shoot this way myself sometimes for the same reason - it's popular, it looks cool, and it's a simple way to create more visual separation between subject & background - the underexposure also increases the saturation in the background colors, which tends to make the whole image "pop" a little more.

Dear God, I just used the word "pop" unironically in describing a photo. Kill me now.
posted by kcds at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the jonestown one is funny, probably because it reminds me of the jonestown massacre jokes me and my friends would make when I was a kid. The rest are lame... and I don't think the work bears up to analysis on any level but "funny/lame."

but the jonestown one is funny. And funny is good.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2011


How obnoxious.
posted by bardic at 9:02 PM on May 10, 2011


but the jonestown one is funny. And funny is good.

Why aren't there any good jonestown jokes?
...
...
...
The punchlines are too long.

[I'm pretty sure I saw this joke on metafilter some time ago.]
posted by andoatnp at 9:20 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


kcds, I'm nowhere near being an expert on lighting in photography so I'll take your word for it. Spring Break and The Saints were the ones that particularly bugged me though. I do prefer natural light though, and probably I'm looking at too many photos from people just starting out with lighting (and therefore sticking with tried and true methods).

I wouldn't have any problem with my kid being in a photo like this. I'd be happy to tell them about it in an age-appropriate way, would encourage them to ask the photographer questions, and when they were older talk about the ability of art to get people to look at old news from a new angle.
posted by harriet vane at 10:34 PM on May 10, 2011


I like the Jonestown one best.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:19 PM on May 12, 2011


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