Photographer Mark Neville explores the complex nature of child's play

Mark Neville, ‘Boy with Hoop in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya’, 2016, courtesy Mark Neville

The title of photographer Mark Neville's latest project, Child’s Play, conceals hidden depths beneath its apparent innocence. While it does present images of what the term means, and the multifarious forms it takes across cities, countries and classes, it also looks to encourage "debate around the complex nature of children’s play."

That's why these pictures aren't the chipper, joyful things you might expect: Neville's beautiful and poignant body of work draws on his time spent in places including Glasgow and North London communities, the war zones of Afghanistan and Ukraine and Kakuma, Kenya’s second largest refugee camp.

But while each image hints at some devastating stories, the beauty of the project is in its revelation that the sort of unabashed, fun and spontaneous playfulness of children can flourish in even the most terrible circumstances. Taking the form of a book, symposium and exhibition at the Foundling Museum, the project acts as advocacy for "improved provision for this universal right [play], as identified by the UN in the 2013 General Comment on Article 31 (the Convention on the Rights of the Child)."

"We imagine we understand play – it’s a release from social and physical constraints or the intense engagement of imaginative pretence – and we instinctively know it is important for a healthy and happy childhood," The Foundling Museum says. "Yet it is a notoriously difficult concept to define, and we often overlook its more subversive and aggressive elements – the importance of free, autonomous play for children in asserting power and expressing their identities... [Neville's] images reveal how, through play, children claim a place of power, safety and freedom.

Child’s Play runs from 3 February - 30 April 2017 at The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AZ

Via Creative Boom submission | Main image: Mark Neville, ‘Boy with Hoop in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya’, 2016, courtesy Mark Neville

Mark Neville, ‘Arts and Crafts at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground’, 2011, courtesy Mark Neville and Alan Cristea Gallery

Mark Neville, ‘Arts and Crafts at Somerford Grove Adventure Playground’, 2011, courtesy Mark Neville and Alan Cristea Gallery

Mark Neville, ‘Child, Jacket, Slaughtered Goat, Sweets, Painted Nails, Xmas Day, Helmand’, 2010, courtesy Mark Neville

Mark Neville, ‘Child, Jacket, Slaughtered Goat, Sweets, Painted Nails, Xmas Day, Helmand’, 2010, courtesy Mark Neville

‘The Jungle Book Rehearsals, Sewickley Academy’, 2012, courtesy Mark Neville

‘The Jungle Book Rehearsals, Sewickley Academy’, 2012, courtesy Mark Neville