If art is meant to inspire debate, Jonathan Hobin must be a master for stirring up the artworld with his photo series that uses children to depict violent snapshots from current events.
Taking his cue from events like 9/11, Princess Diana's death, Hurricane Katrina, Jon Benet Ramsey and the Jonestown Massacre, Hobin challenges viewers to consider the impact these events are having on children.
He's quoted on the website Trendhunter, saying, "I want people to acknowledge the fact that kids see the scariest things that are out there. The fact that children are like sponges and soak up everything around them is an interesting thing to think about since so much violence and issues within society are televised on a daily basis."
In The Playroom "Diana's Dead"
The Chive website says the 12 photographs that make up "In the Playroom" took him three years to create, finishing the series in 2010, but his Facebook fanpage says he is still continuing the process.
In the Playroom "White Nights" about Jonestown Massacre
In a guide for an exhibit of the photos, Clayton Windatt, Director of the White Water Gallery, writes, "Hobin creates images charged with symbolism and uses the viewer’s own preconceived notions, morals and awareness in order to manipulate their emotions." He says the series has become a hot topic within the media because of Hobin’s use of children as subjects. "The images may appear disturbing at times, but this is a result of the context that we as adult viewers bring to the images and not because the child models are being victimized." Windatt says, "The children were no more traumatized than they would be by playing a traditional war game."
Psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint tells CNN that children playing make believe is appropriate but making them act out scenes of torture, terrorism or a violent death may cross the line. While he commended the photos, he says the children likely "didn't understand what they were doing," and could be traumatised later in life.
In the Playroom "American Idol" about Jon Benet Ramsey death
The gallery guide also includes some quotes from people on both sides of the debate. “What a vile, publicity seeking piece of human garbage,”writes Max in a blog post titled "Art or Exploitation" in the Daily Mail last year. And Bill Handel is quoted from a discussion about the installation on Talk Radio KFI 640 in Los Angeles saying, "I am going to defend these. Offensive? Oh God yes. Is it art? I think so."
In the Playroom "Seal Heart" - Governor General eating seal heart with seal hunters in Northern Canada
Hobin tells The Toronto Star, “They see the photographs and think it was just hours of me screwing with these kids’ minds, but the kids just had a lot of fun.”
And Amanda Etherington whose children, 5-year old Caleb and 7-year old Skylar, appeared in the photos, admits to The Star she had mixed emotions about the project. “We decided, at the end of the day, that really and truly what Jonathan is doing is art.” “It’s really subjective. And you’re either going to have people who get it, or people who don’t.”