Where Children Sleep (2010), James Mollison


James Mollison was tasked with coming up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, by Colors magazine. The project took the form of Where Children Sleep, a series of 56 diptychs depicting the space in which young people across the world lay their heads (including Kaya, 4 , from Tokyo, Japan, pictured above). “I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was,” Mollison explains. “It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations.”

Midnight Milk (2015), Marie Sjøvold

Midnight Milk is a bold and almost mystical project by Norwegian photographer Marie Sjøvold, capturing the “ambivalence” and “inner-conflict” that accompanies first-time motherhood. Using her own body as the subject of her work, Sjøvold’s latest project depicts the impact of having a child on her physical and emotional state. Her previous project Dust Catches Light (2011, Journal) followed a similar theme, and is now sold out.

Another Family (2012), Irina Popova

When Russian photographer Irina Popova exhibited her haunting photos of the dysfunctional family life of drug-addicted parents Lilya and Pasha and their two-year-old daughter, Anfisa, in 2012, they drew critical acclaim. Unsurprisingly, the images – which include troubling shots of the toddler surrounded by passed-out strangers at her parents regular house parties in St Petersburg, and leaning dangerously of a top-floor window – also attracted serious concern.

In a piece for lensculture.com, Popova wrote: “They were living in a darkness, mixing day and night, behind the thick curtains, descending to the street only to ask for some money for the cheap alcohol (they already couldn’t buy any drugs). Their daughter was with them all the time and she was looking at all this with wide-open eyes, tried to touch and to taste everything. They fed her with expensive artificial milk, dragged her away from dangerous things, changed her diapers and said, ‘Anfisa, stop. Anfisa, go to sleep!’

“Half a year ago Lilya left the family, and nobody knows where she is now. Pasha takes his daughter to the kindergarten and goes to some cheap-paid work. The girl can talk and seems to have normal development. She only has more serious eyes than all other children of her age. Pasha looks miserable and aggressive and doesn’t want to have any further contacts with people concerned about the future of this family.”

Immediate Family (1992), Sally Mann

Immediate Family is widely-considered one of the great photography books of our time, and among the most influential. An unflinching, often dream-like portrait of her own family, taken against the backdrop of their summer house in Virginia, Mann’s pictures have an ethereal beauty that resonates regardless of time and place.

Ray’s a Laugh (2000), Richard Billingham

Ray’s a Laugh captures the life of the photographer’s parents with searing effect. Uncompromising and at times uncomfortable, the chronicles of alcoholic Ray, and heavily-tattooed Liz have proved so popular the book has sold out. Fortunately, pictures from the series are plastered all over the internet.

More in Features


By , 4th July 2024
‘A standout literary thriller.’ THE FT ‘Ingenious, intriguing, colourful and very entertaining, this is the ideal summer holiday novel.’ LITERARY REVIEW

From book to screen

By , 28th February 2023
Free resources and tips for would be screenwriters, from a complete novice - and some professionals - as I navigate the process of adapting my novels for TV and film

Observer New Review Q&A

By , 22nd March 2022
An interview with Stephanie Merritt about Edith and Kim, the perils of writing about family, and why female spies often get overlooked

Researching Edith and Kim

By , 17th November 2021
From a compendium of stories about life at the Bauhaus to a Modernist memoir by the founder of the iconic Isokon, here are some of the books that inspired my forthcoming novel