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It was a small room, at the top of the house. For a time, it was home to tropical fish. Later, two pet mice slept there, in a home made of fruit crates. The walls of the room were covered with posters of Madonna and Duran Duran. Then it was the Rolling Stones. Then Jimi Hendrix.
This was the childhood bedroom in Oxford, England, of James Mollison, 37, a documentary photographer who was born in Kenya and now lives in Venice. He had the luxury as a boy of adapting his bedroom to reflect his changing interests.
“As a child, that’s your little space within the house,” Mr. Mollison said.
Mr. Mollison’s new book, “Where Children Sleep,” had its origins in a project undertaken for a children’s charity several years ago. As he considered how to represent needy children around the world, he wanted to avoid the common devices: pleading eyes, toothless smiles. When he visualized his own childhood, he realized that his bedroom said a lot about what sort of life he led. So he set out to find others.
His subjects came from Boy Scout troops and sumo wrestling clubs. They were introduced through friends of friends. Mr. Mollison posed his young subjects — more than 200 of them — in front of blank white backgrounds for their portraits, leaving their bedrooms to do the talking. More than 50 pairings are in the book, which has a glow-in-the-dark cover (a nod to the glow-in-the-dark stars on so many childhood ceilings).
As much as the project is about the quirkiness of childhood, it is, more strikingly, a commentary on class and on poverty. But the diversity also provides a sense of togetherness.
Everybody sleeps. And eventually, everybody grows up.
Alex, 9, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alex does not go to school but spends his time begging on the city streets. Most of the time he sleeps outside, on an empty bench or discarded sofa if he can find one—otherwise on the pavement. © James Mollison
Kaya, 4, Tokyo, Japan. Kaya’s bedroom is lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls. Kaya’s mother makes all Kaya’s dresses—she usually makes three in a month. © James Mollison
Lamine, 12, Bounkiling Village, Senegal. Lamine is a pupil at the Bounkiling village Koranic school, where no girls are allowed. At 6 every morning, the boys begin work on the school farm. © James Mollison
Rhiannon, 14, Darvel, Scotland. Rhiannon has had a Mohawk haircut like her parents' since she was 6. She and her family and friends are part of the punk subculture and have formed a supportive community where they all look out for each other. © James Mollison
Bilal, 6, Wadi Abu Hindi, The West Bank. Bilal and his family are Bedouin Arabs. Their home is a one-roomed shack they built themselves in Wadi Abu Hindi on the West Bank. © James Mollison
Erlen, 14, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Erlen slept on the floor of her favela abode in Rio de Janeiro until the late stages of her pregnancy. © James Mollison
Tristan, 7, New York, USA. Tristan lives with his father, a filmmaker, and his mother, a pop culture writer, in Manhattan, New York. He attends an Eco-School where no religious holidays are observed. His favorite food is bacon and he has pizza every weekend. When he grows up, he wants to become a creator of marmalade. © James Mollison
Jyoti, 14, Makwanpur, Nepal. Jyoti left school at a young age in order to become a domestic worker, but was treated so badly she ran away and now lives with one of her sisters in the Nepalese countryside where she works in the fields. The family sleeps on mats on the mud floor with an open fire for cooking and warmth. © James Mollison
Joey, 11, Kentucky, USA. Joey regularly accompanies his father on hunts. He owns two shotguns and a crossbow and made his first kill—a deer—at the age of 7. "Even his teddy bear was camouflaged," photographer James Mollison noted in a telephone interview. © James Mollison
Nantio, 15, Lisamis, Northern Kenya. Nantio is a member of the Rendille tribe. She has two brothers and two sisters. Her home in Lisamis, northern Kenya, is a tent-like dome made from cattle hide and plastic, with little room to stand. © James Mollison