What constitutes a child’s bedroom; is it just the space they sleep in or should it be something more? These images from the Foundling Museum’s new exhibition paint a stark contrast with our understanding of what should be a place of comfort and safety. As this article from The Guardian explores, with the occupants removed there’s nothing but the environment to tell the story. It’s striking how these images are able to get the power and meaning across just by delivering the message in another way.
Some of them resemble cells while others are striking because of their lack of toys, space and privacy. All of them are children’s bedrooms, or at least the space they sleep in, exhibited in photographs displayed by the Foundling Museum, in London.
More than 30 pictures by Katie Wilson expose the dispiritingly grim living conditions of families in poverty and form Bedrooms of London, an exhibition that could be one of the most challenging of 2019.
Show And Tell
“There is something very haunting about the images,” said Caro Howell, the director of the museum. “It is the absences, the absence of space for a child to walk in, or learn to walk in, or play in. The absence of toys, the absence of privacy. Because the people are not there, the environment is speaking for them, they are very haunting.”
Because the people are not there, the environment is speaking for them, they are very haunting
Caro Howell, Director, Foundling Museum
The photographs will be shown alongside first-hand narratives of the families. There is, for example, the tiny hostel bedsit of Amelie, a baby’s cot next to the mother’s sofabed and no room for the child to crawl; then there is the story of Sainey, 32, who went to London aged 15 as a domestic slave, never left, and cannot work because she is in the country illegally and cannot afford clothes for her growing children.
“Bedrooms are supposed to be a place of comfort and emotional safety and love,” said Howell. “A child’s bedroom is supposed to be a physical manifestation of the love that those surrounding it feel. Seeing the images brings you up short.”
The project is the outcome of two years’ engagement with families by the the Childhood Trust, a London charity that is also producing a book and report to send to policymakers.
The trust’s chief executive, Laurence Guinness, said some of the hostels in which people were forced to live were like open prisons. “It’s like you’re living in a cell. You can go out whenever you like but you’ve got no money to go and do anything. You can’t really escape, people are trapped.”
When they set out on the project they assumed most children would have their own bedroom. “Even a child poverty charity can be naive about child poverty,” he said. “Those at the very bottom don’t even have a bedroom any more.”
Even a child poverty charity can be naive about child poverty
Laurence Guinness, Chief Executive, Childhood Trust
Setting The Scene
The exhibition will be at the museum which is dedicated to the history of the Foundling hospital, founded by Thomas Coram in 1739 as “a hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children”.
It was an obviously appropriate venue, said Howell, as it put the subject in a 300-year context. “I hope visitors to the show will leave and think: ‘What am I going to do?’ It may be something as simple as donating, but it may also be about getting more deeply involved in a grassroots charity in [your] own neighbourhood. As the Foundling hospital shows, we all have the capacity to make things better.”
Guinness said he hoped the photographs would be shown in parliament, where policymakers can take action.
But while the families featured in the photographs were down, they were not out, he said. “We got them together recently to let people comment on the pictures and the report. They were very motivated to help.
“The overriding question was: ‘How can this create any change?’ That’s all we’re interested in is change. We are not defeated yet.”