Potential Space: A Serious Look at Child’s Play

By Nancy Richards Farese

Text by James Estrin


12 x 9.5 inches
144 pages
95 color illustrations
ISBN: 9781735762944

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.

Additional information

Weight 3.5 lbs
Dimensions 9.5 × 12 × .75 in

About the Authors

Nancy Richards Farese is a photographer, author, and entrepreneur whose work promotes visual storytelling as an essential tool for social good. The recipient of many awards for her documentary photography, she has worked extensively for international development organizations including CARE International, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, RefugePoint, and the Carter Center.

James Estrin is a senior staff writer and photographer at the New York Times and the founder of its photojournalism blog, "Lens." Estrin was on the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning team that produced How Race Is Lived in America, and is the co-executive producer of the documentary film, Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro.