“Where Children Sleep”: Erlen, 14, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This picture was the thirty-third of thirty-six pictures in the essay. After seeing all the pictures of children ages four to fifteen years old, their rooms full of toys or barren due to poverty, this image is extremely striking. In a photo essay about children and the places that they sleep, the reader is struck with this fourteen-year-old girl with short jean shorts, a strapless tank-top with a heavily pregnant belly coming out of the bottom of her shirt, and a young, innocent face.

There were other pictures that stood out, like the four-year-old beauty pageant girl, six-year-old Bilal, the couch of nine-year-old Alex, Joey from Kentucky, and Lamine from Senegal. These pictures all stood out in different ways, like what a child should, or is typically exposed to, what living conditions they are growing up in, and how their rooms reflect other aspects of their personalities that come out of their portraits. What makes Erlen’s portrait different is that this is a series about children, and yet she stands there pregnant, with a bedroom that seems to be pieced together as best that they can.

Seeing her stand there with her belly poking out of her tank-top, and the expression on her face, makes the viewer wonder why?  How? Is she okay? This is not to say that the viewer wouldn’t or isn’t concerned about the well-being of some of the other children in the essay, but my heart aches thinking that her pregnancy might be the result of rape, being that she is so young. It is also troubling to think about whether or not her pregnancy is even seen as being as “normal” or if she is in a marriage as a child.

The contrasts between the clean white/grey background of the portraits of Erlen and the other children and their rooms, illuminate the pieces of their rooms that reflect their lives and their personalities too. The size of the children next to their rooms make them seem larger than life because they are smaller than their rooms, but they balance each other very well, while being unbalanced. Looking at all the other children in comparison to Erlen, it is interesting and in some cases sad to see the stark differences between how they live and the position they are in within their lives. These images all make you wonder about what is going on outside of the small snapshot and blurb about whole they are.

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