Child's Play

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Child’s Play is a photographic exhibition featuring photos by Mark Neville that focus on the nature of children’s play.

The exhibition has a very clear message that children should have more unstructured space in which to play freely. There are some very attention-grabbing photos taken in an adventure playground in Tottenham where children are able to explore and play.

The most striking of these for me was a picture of a girl who had caught a frog and was concentrating on trying to stop it leaping from her hands. In the girl’s face you could see the importance to her of keeping the frog, the clear enjoyment of the activity but also the seriousness of her “play”.

Neville’s photos are taken in a huge range of places, from pictures of children on toxic land in Port Glasgow to refugee camps in Kenya. The viewer is reminded about the real dangers there can be to children’s play space.

As an embedded photo-journalist in Afghanistan, Neville photographed two Afghan girls on land where landmines were a constant threat.

The photo that most struck me in this section was one of two British soldiers who stood in the desert, smiling for the camera. The soldiers must have been 18 or older but they looked incredibly young — as if they were maybe 15 or 16. The viewer is forced to question when childhood ends. The war games of young boys also come to mind.

Despite this being an exhibition about play, there are actually very few pictures of children actually playing. Rather each picture has something to say about play. In this respect, the exhibition can be seen as a call to arms to defend children’s right to play in safe, unstructured places.

I felt the exhibition was a bit disjointed and it wasn’t always clear what Neville’s intention was for some of the photographs. However, it is thought-provoking and it has a very clear message for policy makers. It is definitely worth visiting.