In 2017, author and photographer Nancy Richards Farese visited Bangladesh to photograph the Rohingya refugee crisis, which forced over one million people into temporary camps as they fled the genocide in Myanmar. As she documented the toll of extreme trauma and the most violent tendencies of humankind, she also heard the irrepressible laughter of children fashioning sticks and rocks into toy cars and turning plastic bags into kites. On the edge of every frame, she captured children at play, following their instinct to adapt and socialize, despite the darker forces all around them. Potential Space: A Serious Look at Child’s Play features documentary images of children engaged in play—spontaneous, unselfconscious, free of adult supervision—that Farese took in fourteen countries, including Burkina Faso, Cuba, Haiti, Jordan, and the U.S.A. Through play we learn to collaborate, strengthen creativity, and develop the emotional flexibility to survive in a chaotic and ambiguous world. Though difficult to define because of the limitless forms it may take, we know play when we see it, and photography can capture its ephemerality.
Featuring a foreword by New York Times photographer and staff writer James Estrin, Potential Space offers a global view of a seemingly mundane activity that is both a defining feature of humanness and essential to happiness. When we are at play, we lose ourselves in time, yet find ourselves most fully alive. Play can be both a window and a mirror, providing a path toward empathy and peace.