The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Photo artist draws on tragic current events and kids for inspiration

  • Print

OTTAWA - For Picasso's masterpiece Guernica, it was the German bombing of a Spanish town. For Ottawa art photographer Jonathan Hobin's Twins, it was 9/11.

Current events have always inspired art and Hobin's latest instalment in his controversial series "In the Playroom" is an arresting modern example.

Each of his photos depicts children at play re-enacting tragic public events.

Hobin, 33, has portrayed familiar stories, such as a Halloween-inspired Abu Ghraib prison scene, a portrait of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong il, and JonBenet Ramsay dressed in a pageant gown, among others.

He says the child models in his photographs are unpaid volunteers, and are either the children of friends and family, or models from agencies.

"I definitely would never have photographed a child unless I fully communicated what I was going to do," he said in an interview.

Parents "had to believe in what I was doing if I was going to photograph their child."

The idea for the series came after Hobin witnessed the repeated and unforgettable images of the planes striking the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

"I started to think: 'I'm an adult and I can kind of handle what that means,'" he said.

"But with someone who is not as equipped as I am with problem-solving or just life experiences, how are they going to see that sort of thing? How are they going to comprehend what that means?"

By portraying children acting out headline-grabbing news events, Hobin explores how young minds deal with the unsettling side of the modern media-scape.

"It goes back to this whole notion that children always have incorporated things they see in popular culture into their play," he said.

"In fact, science shows that children need to physically re-enact things in order to process them. There's a tactile nature to their minds."

In one of Hobin's newest photographs, GOT HIM!, a marine with a toy gun shoots Osama Bin Laden in a messy ketchup-blood scene beside a kitchen fridge.

Hobin says his work has been polarizing. In between critical praise and gifts from fans, he's received death threats and accusations of pedophilia.

"It was quite a surprise, but I'd rather have people be excited and energetic about what I'm doing than really blase about the whole thing."

Asked whether he would depict the recent Boston Marathon bombings, Hobin said such events need time to play out in the culture before he can consider reflecting the stories visually.

"It took probably about six or seven years before I did the 9/11 attacks. You kind of let the dust settle and see how it plays out," he said.

He says that while kids use play as a tool to process, it also reflects their emotional resilience versus the fragility of adulthood.

"They might be better equipped to survive the emotional side of what's happening at this age than we are as adults."

Starting Thursday, 17 of Hobin's images from "In the Playroom" will be released as a feature exhibition in Toronto's Contact photography festival at the Gladstone Hotel, in partnership with the Patrick Mikhail Gallery.


On the web:

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Janice Filmon humbled to be appointed lieutenant-governor

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you planning to go visit the new polar bear, Humphrey, at the Assiniboine Park Zoo?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google