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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Tim Adams

The big picture: playtime in New Orleans

A boy playing outside with colourful hoops on a metal staircase
Untitled by Vasantha Yogananthan – part of his Mystery Street series, taken in New Orleans, 2022. Photograph: Vasantha Yogananthan

Each year, a French-American photography commission called Immersion allows selected photographers from each country to work on a project on the other side of the Atlantic. The French photographer Vasantha Yogananthan chose last year to go to New Orleans, taking the notion of immersion seriously and becoming part of a community of kids at a daily summer camp; the heat of Louisiana means that holidays last for three months. With the support of parents and organisers, Yogananthan spent a long time getting to know the kids before he started taking pictures, to the point where they would forget he was there. He was struck by how, each morning, they created their own complex society in a yard the size of a basketball court. Most of the thousands of pictures Yogananthan took were at the end of his time with the children, when the freedoms of summer were coming to a close.

This picture is characteristic of Yogananthan’s images, nearly all of which were taken at ground level to give a sense of the children’s world. He calls the series – on display with work by two other photographers later this month in New York – Mystery Street. It is a place where play is still a serious business. Speaking of the pictures to one of the sponsors of the commission, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, Yogananthan described how he wanted them to convey some of the fragile and transitory aspects of childhood. This was heightened, he suggested, in New Orleans by the way that the city had been turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina, and was still living with the memory. He thinks of the work as “post-documentary”: none of the images were staged, but stripped of visual clues of location they seem part of the children’s own ideas of time and space.

Immersion: Gregory Halpern, Raymond Meeks and Visantha Yogananthan is at the International Center of Photography, New York, 29 September–8 January 2024

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