Monday, August 9, 2010

The Shrinking Horizons of Childhood

The Shrinking Horizons of Childhood    by Mike O'Toole

Background to the project: I began to notice how children today spent so much more time indoors and I began to think about how this restricts children's play, limits their freedom of movement and constrains their understanding of the environment and social world outside the home.
I started to research the ideas of fear and control in childhood and about balancing protecting children with allowing them some agency over their own affairs.I wanted to explore this idea in my work and the best place was to start at home, photographing my family and friends children. 

Project text:
Mike O’Toole’s series “The Shrinking Horizons of Childhood” was developed from reading an account by Renis Michels, a Dutch football coach about how he saw a family pull up their car near a woods in Holland.The dog ran out immediately but the children did not run out and explore the woods.The children did not see the woods as a place of play, of freedom or adventure.
Alas this has become the norm and today local children know more about the wildlife and environment of the Rainforest than of their own country.
Like most parents O’Toole worries about how much time children spend indoors, using modern technology and about health issues such as obesity in childhood.
In this work he contrasted the fact that the children were staying indoors while it was sunny outside, using the reflections on the windows to bring nature indoors while playing with the idea of the underlying tension and the culture of fear that surrounds childhood.
Although the outdoors are no more dangerous than at any other time in history, parents worry about what ‘might happen’ outdoors. Apart from the dangers for children outside, children themselves are being seen as a ‘threat’ to society by playing football in the streets or simply being out and about. The children's commissioner commented “England is one of the most child unfriendly countries in the world”.
Sir Al Aynsley Green, who quit after five years in the job, said that the British public's hostility to young people had made his job as children's champion very difficult. 
We bring adult ideas of how children should be, control their activities and over-schedule their lives insofar as there is little agency or autonomy for children themselves, in short we don’t trust children.We keep them “safe” in their glass boxes like exotic birds from the Rainforest.
O’Toole was conscious to make work that avoided the cliched imagery of children depicted in lifestyle campaigns or the harrowing looks of children depicted in charity advertising.
Avoiding the use of artificial lighting which is part of the high production values of fashion, movies and TV and with the language of light is associated with the idea of ‘re-illumination’ He choose instead to use natural light, which is the visual representation of freedom and natural impulses of man.
Tim Gill a writer on childhood says “I see the benefit of time away from adults as an important way for children to grow up as engaged, self confident, resilient people with some control of their own lives. What's needed is frequent,unregulated,self directed contact with people and places beyond the immediate spheres of family and school and the chance to learn from their mistakes. Part social commentary, part fiction, part autobiography, this project is the start of a series on issues around childhood. 
What interests O’Toole is a new kind of social documentary photography, less about reality and more about reflection. 
Mike O’Toole

Gallery Wall Text:
The Shrinking Horizons of Childhood
Mike O’Toole’s part fictional part autobiographic series explores the tensions and culture of fear surrounding childhood. The children seem to be wavering between being objects of voyeuristic observation and willingly acting out roles in some vague performance.   

The Shrinking Horizons of Childhood deploys the aesthetic of confinement, contrasting the supposedly safe indoor space and the vibrating light coming through the windows posing no apparent danger, but still inaccessible. Surrounded by intangible, derealized images of nature reflected on the windows, the children come across as over-protected, locked in from whatever “might happen” outside and at the same time posing a threat to the established mechanics of society just by being out and about.

The photographic image functions an imaginary documentary, less preoccupied with reality than with fiction, echoing the essentially representable, imaginary reality learned from books and the internet the children tend to take for granted in their forced spiritual disconnection, and the socially imposed collective narratives of childhood, too vividly imprinted in their parents’ minds.   


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