Sep 12, 2011

PROFILE | Jonathan Hobin

Johnathan Hobin, The Twins, photograph, 2010  
Canadian Johnathan Hobin's work explores the nature of how we deal with children.  His 2010 series In The Playroom has drawn controversy for its depiction of children in tragic or catastrophic events.  In this collection, children are literally photographed in playrooms, using toys as their props.  This reinforces what Hobin says is the impetus for his art: darkness is inherent in the world, children will be exposed to it and scenes branded in their minds will follow them into the playroom and all other aspects of their lives.

When interviewed by George Strombolopolous for Canadian television, Hobin claimed to be surprised by the uproar the photographs have caused, instead thinking more people would get his meaning:
Most of my work is about childhood experience.  It is important to acknowledge that childhood is not always wonderful and whimsical and sometimes it is sad and tragic.  Kids do see some of the horrible things in this world... It is important to reflect how the world appears to them.
Ironically, much of the controversy surrounding In The Playroom is focused on Hobin exposing kids to these catastrophes by way of re-enactment, which pretty much enforces his point.  Many of the comments on the blogs I found during research were from parents wondering what kind of person would let their kids be involved with something like this. Well... this kind.  

The dividing line seems to fall between people who believe kids should be kept from anything they may find disturbing and those who are realistic enough to know that kids actually grow up.  Hobin concludes the televised interview by expressing his desire for parents to actually have a conversation with their children as opposed to ignoring problems and hoping they'll go away. 

Say what you will about the way he chooses to convey his message, Hobin has certainly garnered attention for himself.  Of course, this is also a bone of contention amongst detractors who see the shock value as a road to commercial success. 

In 2009, Hobin's Mother Goose photographs probed the thematically similar motif of dark subtext in nursery rhymes.
Johnathan Hobin, Jack Sprat, photograph, 2009
Hobin used these photographs to portray the often violent cautionary tales that underpin Mother Goose's doggerel.  In another interview he states that In The Playroom is an obvious extension of Mother Goose.  The nursery rhymes were a way to warn children without really talking to them, much like modern media projects these images at them with no context or explanation.  In his view, the news and Internet have become the fairy tales of our times.

It is interesting to note that the three models used in the Mother Goose series were chosen with specific care.  They were family friends of the artist's whose father had passed away.  Said Hobin,, "If there are any kids that understand that life is not free and easy, then it's these kids... They totally represent the type of kid I was at that age."  

Both of the series mentioned here can be found at Johnathan Hobin's website along with his commercial work.  - John Elmore

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