Category Archives: Playground Photography

A Year in Play

I traipse our three young ones around to a lot of playgrounds here at home and when we’re on the road. It’s an adventure for all of us – a chance for Noah, Nellie and Lila to test their physical abilities and to hang out with new kids. Play of course doesn’t need a ‘playground’. Play happens anywhere a child is given the freedom to let loose with their imagination and their natural inclinations to fun and discovery.

Waterfront, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Click for slideshow

Being able to witness and take part in their play is one of the huge bonuses of being a parent. It also helps put some of the pressures and frustrations of grown-up life into perspective. I hope you’ll enjoy these few photos that provide a bird’s eye view of our year in play. If you haven’t had the chance lately, do yourself a favour – get out and play.

Once Upon A Playground

PlayGroundology allows me the opportunity to speak with many fine people from a variety of countries and backgrounds – artists, designers, advocates and activists, theorists and educators, photographers and psychologists, researchers, nostalgists, parents and beautiful dreamers. All are united in a fervent love of children, playgrounds and play and are mostly in it for the long haul.

I love it when we’re able to keep connected over time and PlayGroundology gets updates of new projects. That happened just today when photographer Brenda Biondo sent me a note about her new book, Once Upon A Playground.

Brenda’s photos were featured in PlayGroundology just after it got out the gates in February 2010. This is what was written back then.

Brenda Biondo is a woman on a mission. Over the last six years she’s clocked thousands of miles on the roads of the southwestern United States. Each time she finds a treasure on one of her expeditions of discovery, she parks her car, takes out her camera and proceeds to shoot frame after frame of America’s disappearing vintage playgrounds. Her eyes and sensibilities are recording the zeitgeist of American public play primarily from the 1950s through the 1970s – the pre-plastic era.
Endangered Species – Vanishing Playscapes

That mission now includes the book noted above. Brenda is offering us a sneak peek before Once Upon A Playground is finally put to bed and released to a broader public.

I went through the more than 100 images this evening and they are a real testament to Brenda’s vision and love of the subject matter. Some photos are breathtaking, stunning and deceptive in their simplicity. But don’t take my word for it, go flip through the digital pages yourself at the companion website, Once Upon A Playground. It won’t be hard to select some favourites. I’ve already discovered quite a few.

Brenda is also interested in gathering old photgraphs and stories from readers about their play and playground memories to post on the site which is where you’ll also find her contact information.

Don’t wait, click through to Once Upon A Playground and get your sneak peek of this beautiful book that takes us on a photographic journey from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Brenda, thanks for thinking of us.

Canada’s Playgrounds Photo Project

PlayGroundology is interested in creating a photographic resource of playgrounds across Canada. This is an opportunity to do an image round-up, celebrate unique playscapes and installations and perhaps explore regional differences.
Parc Chalifoux, Sorel – Quebec

You can participate as long as you have a flickr account and images of Canadian playgrounds and playscapes. Simply add your photos to Playgrounds in Canada. Please no playground manufacturers.

St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick

Keep clicking great playground shots and give a thought to sharing them with Playgrounds in Canada on flickr.

If you have questions about Canada’s Playground Photo Project drop us a line at playgroundology@gmail.com.

Tunisian Playgrounds

PlayGroundology’s last post featured images from towns and cities that skirt the arctic circle in those north of 60 kind of places that are characterized by snow, snow and more snow. Hundreds of visitors have popped in to the Northern Playgrounds flickr gallery in the last few days.

More photos today – this time a little contrast as we go to North Africa’s Maghreb. Watch for crenellated turrets, kneeling dromedaries and retro equipment in these shots from Tunisia.

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Google and flickr have very limited offerings of playground images from Tunisia. These will supplement the online public record. Thanks to Nicole Cordeau who took these photos while vacationing in Tunisia in the fall of 2010. Nicole is very supportive of her son-in-law’s playground meanderings…

As you enjoy the images, spare a thought for the people of Tunisia who are currently experiencing some difficult times.

Paying Homage to Adventure and Free Play

If you’re in LA, or passing through in the next two days, check out Kelly Barrie’s exhibit at LAXART. His photos sing out a catchy song of freedom and play. If you’re like me and LA isn’t in the cards in the immediate future then enjoy Barrie’s photos right here at PlayGroundology.

Double Toe Rope Netting, 2010
Digital C-print
125 x 92 inches
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

For all photos, click for larger image.

Get ready because they jump off the screen. I’m inspired to climb, run, dangle and skittle down steep inclines. These photos are laughter ringing, play being, adventure believing. I hope you’ll enjoy these images. Even motionless, they are bursting with kinetic energy.


Reclaimed Sewer Pipe, 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 110 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

Negative Capability was inspired by Barrie’s memories of the junkyard playgrounds of his youth in England. Thanks to Sharon Mizota at the Los Angeles Times I found out about this exhibition and subsequently contacted Barrie.


Plank Ladder, 2010
Digital C-print
14 x 74 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

I have never had the pleasure of playing in an adventure playground. They were unknown in the places I grew up. Everything that I see and read about them though convinces me that I have to make sure my kids will get a chance to experience their wonder.


Heel Spin Pyramid, 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 92 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

This is a tunnel to an alternate form of play, to a space that is challenging, to new discoveries.


Reclaimed Sewer Pipe (detail), 2010
Digital C-print
74 x 110 inches framed
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

This is the great escape – freedom to play, imagine, and to be.


Installation view LAXART, 2010
Image courtesy of LAXART and Kelly Barrie

Below is the news release issued by LAXART for the exhibition.

LAXART is pleased to present a new project by Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Barrie. Inspired by the junkyard playground in London where the artist played as a child, Negative Capability is inspired by the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child (which was amended to the Universal Human Civil Rights Declaration of 1948) that states:

“The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.”

Despite its passage in 1959, this Declaration did not become legally binding until 1989. As a result, this particular right that guarantees free self-directed open space play would ultimately find concrete expression between the 1960's-1980’s with the emergence of junkyard playgrounds and other non-authoritarian play spaces such as adventure playgrounds. Today, due to real estate demands and increasing gentrification, the adventure playground has all but vanished in the US, though they remain popular in Europe.

Barrie’s series of leaning photos/drawings recreate the archetypal components of the historic junkyard playgrounds, such as a reclaimed sewer pipe and rope ladder. The framed photographs are installed in such a way that they convey a sense of idle transition–as if they could be picked up and moved to a different corner of the room. The exhibition title, Negative Capability, refers to a literary concept introduced by poet John Keats that is rooted in the idea that a state of idle receptivity is a means for observing the truth. The manner in which Barrie’s photographs and drawings are installed in the gallery reflect the impermanence of the playground’s components, further evoking a sense of idle transition. For the artist, the gestures conveyed in his photographs address the tension of free versus fixed play. In this case, Barrie’s reconstituted adventure playground will allow for the viewer to abandon the constraints of an existing social order; generating a platform to explore and “actively do nothing,” much like a child at play.

Kelly Barrie was born in 1973 in London, England and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Kelly Barrie received his BFA in 1996 from Hobart College, Geneva, NY, and his MFA in 1997 from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. He is a 1998 graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program. Barrie’s photography has been exhibited at the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, Australia and the 2008 California Biennial. He’s had solo shows at Miller Durazo Fine Arts and Angstrom Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. His work has also been presented in numerous group exhibitions in various venues including Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY; Queen’s Nails Projects, San Francisco, CA; Artists Space, New York, NY; and the Museo Alejandro Otero, Caracas, Venezuela. He is a recipient of the Durfee Artist Completion Grant.

Many thanks once again to Kelly Barrie for sharing his fine photos with us.

For more on Kelly Barrie check his site and ArtSlant.

Sweet Shots – World of Playgrounds II

This is the second installment of Sweet Shots where we share some of the fine playground photos we’ve come across in our digital trolling.

Children of Darfur at play
AP Images – Nasser Nasser

Children everywhere, given the opportunity, will jump at the chance to play. Even in Darfur these simple swings can sweep an arc of joy.

Alfio Bonnano’s Amager Ark part of Kalvebod Faelled, Copenhagen
seier+seier
Creative Commons – Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Amager Ark is one of a series of pieces on an adventurous route designed and installed by artist Alfio Bonnano. Each of the art playgrounds is created with all natural products. Read about the artist’s thoughts on this series here.

Launch pad to the Alps – Parc des Pierrettes, St-Sulpice, Switzerland
Raphael Ullmann
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

The slide at the top of the world in the small village of St-Sulpice, Switzerland. What a stunning view. Hard to believe that it could ever become humdrum.

Playground Oasis, Coney Island, New York
Marco de Stabile
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

The quiet, the solitude, the absence of kids. This must be an early morning shot looking east to the old world.

Parque La Carolina – Quito, Ecuador
From The Wide Wide World by The James Family on flickr
Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

This former military aircraft is now a permanent fixture of Quito’s urban La Carolina Park. At one point, the entire fuselage was used as a canvass to promote the film Madagascar 2. I think there is some benefit in looking at playgrounds as commercial free zones, places where kids can go and not be pitched by advertisers.

So ends the Sweet Shots II. Many thanks to the photographers for making this all possible and to flickr for giving us all a home.

Click here for Sweet Shots I

If you have a Sweet Shot capturing the world of playgrounds that you’d like to share, please send a copy to PlayGroundology at playgroundology@gmail.com.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Chilean Miners Playground – Industrial Ingenuity

Otherworldly with a touch of the surreal describes some unique play structures that sit quietly in Chuquicamata, a former mining town in northern Chile. Located in the Atacama desert, the most arid on the planet, Chuqui is encircled by foothills of slag and tailings from nearly 100 years of mineral exploitation. The small town was an oasis of humanity surrounded by industrial waste on a massive scale. The community was shut down in 2007 because of significant environmental degradation. The people of Chuqui were relocated to Calamar although mining continues at what is the world’s largest open pit copper operation.

Hats off again to flickr and its contributing photographers. A search for ‘juegos infantiles’ pulled up a few thousand photos from South America, Spain and Portugal. These are the jewels – heavy gauge playground equipment from an abandoned town. Many thanks to Carlos Borlone Leuquén aka Mi otra carne in flickrville for sharing these photos.

We’ll never see equipment like this coming out of the Little Tikes design labs. This industrial folklore speaks to beauty through transforming a harsh landscape, to ingenuity through using materials at hand, to love through creating a space like no other to dream and play. This is innovative design infused with poetic vision.

There were other playgrounds in Chuqui with the standard swings and slides and roundabouts but nothing else as imaginative as these pieces.

Check here for more Chuqui playground structures.

Chile’s Nobel Laureate poet, Pablo Neruda writes starkly of Chuqui and the political struggles associated with mining in a poem included in the Canto General collection written decades prior to the nationalization of the mine by the Allende government.

Anaconda Mining Co.

Name of a coiled snake,
insatiable gullet, green monster,
in the clustered heights,
in my country’s rarefied
saddle, beneath the moon
of hardness–excavator–
you open the mineral’s
lunar craters, the galleries
of virgin copper, sheathed
in its granite sands.

In Chuquicamata’s eternal
night, in the heights,
I’ve seen the sacrificial fire burn,
the profuse crackling
of the cyclops that devoured the Chileans’ hands, weight
and waist, coiling them
beneath its copper vertebrae,
draining their warm blood,
crushing their skeletons
and spitting them out in the
desolate desert wastelands.

Air resounds in the heights
of starry Chuquicamata.
The galleries annihilate
the planet’s resistance
with man’s little hands,
the gorges’ sulphuric bird
trembles, the metal’s
iron cold mutinies
with its sullen scars,
and when the horns blast
the earth swallows a procession
of minuscule men who descend
to the crater’s mandibles.

They’re tiny captains,
my nephews, my children,
and when they pour the ingots
toward the seas, wipe
their brows and return shuddering
to the uttermost chill,
the great serpent eats them up,
reduces them, crushes them,
covers them with malignant spittle,
casts them out to the roads,
murders them with police,
sets them to rot in Pisagua,
imprisons them, spits on them,
buys a trecherous president
who insults and persecutes them,
kills them with hunger on the plains
of the sandy immensity.

And on the infernal slopes
there’s cross after twisted cross,
the only kindling scattered
by the tree of mining.

As Chuqui was being shut down, Jay Heinz shot a documentary Chuqui: The Life and Death of Mining Town.

Now world attention is focused on another Chilean mine and the well being of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground at the San José mine in Copiapo. Their rescue is still weeks if not months away. May all go well for these brave men and their families.

All photos by C. Leuquén aka Mi otra carne.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Sweet Shots – World of Playgrounds I


Far from the Ocean – an abandoned playground, North Shore, California. Photo credit – slworking2.

According to Wikipedia, this former resort area closed down due to the high salinity of the inland Salton Sea. More Salton Sea photos from flickr member slworking2 are available here.

‘Sweet’ of course is in the eyes of the beholder. This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts that will feature playground photos from around the world – they’re of the type that make me look twice. The sweet factor can be composition, context, perspective, lighting, the equipment, people in the shot, or a combination of some or all of the above.

I hope you’ll enjoy the photos. They are shared thanks to photographers who use Creative Commons – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licensing.


Hexagons at Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan designed by Isamu Noguchi. Photo credit – Ame Otoko/Todd F. .

Playscapes, in Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia is the only Noguchi designed playground that was built during his lifetime. Some of Noguchi’s playground contemplations can be read here.


Wheeeeee….! – somewhere in Germany. Photo credit – banger1977

I love the comment banger1977 received about this shot: “I envy you being able to find one of these, over here most have been ripped out due to liability issues. Guess you folks either have smarter children or fewer lawyers.”


The Abandoned Trinity Loop Amusement Park in Trinity, Newfoundland. Photo credit – Product of Newfoundland.

Death of a playground – the duck looks forlorn and the slide is so alone. I hope there is still an occasional kid hopping on. If you’re a lover of Newfoundland, or would like to become one, Product of Newfoundland has a great website here.

If you have a Sweet Shot depicting the playground world, please send a copy to PlayGroundology at playgroundology@gmail.com.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

Road Trippin’

It’s just coming up to four weeks on the road for us through the Maritimes, Québec and Ontario. As it turns out, blogging and web surfing aren’t all that compatible with this edition of family road tripping.

We’re frequently unplugged from the net and there’s no opportunity to set aside blocks of time to write and prepare material for posting. Go figure, I don’t know what I was thinking… With three energetic kids under five years of age we’re kept hopping even more than at home. We’re having plenty of fun with family and friends and discovering a few new playgrounds along the way too.


Parc Saint-Pierre Claver, Montréal, Québec

Regular posts at PlayGroundology will resume the week of July 18. Upcoming stories include the Mont-Royal playground in Montréal, PlayGrounds in the News, the Sorel Playground Marathon and Global Playground Bloggers II. Click here for a slideshow of some of the playscapes we’ve visited in the last few weeks. It’s interesting to see how public play spaces display their own distinctiveness from place to place.

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Going Philatelic in Singapore

Singapore Post recently gave a hats off to playgrounds with a special issue of commemorative stamps. The news release lists the six playgrounds featured on the stamps and extols the virtues of play in developing social skills and physical coordination.

The Toa Payoh Dragon Head Playground (50¢) is thought to be one of the last of its kind in Singapore. In Asian cultures, dragons are auspicious and have historically been identified as emblems of China’s emperors and their high ranking court members.

The tiled dragon sandlot playgrounds now seem destined for extinction – a cruel and ironic fate for a mythical creature that symbolizes power and ascendancy in the heavens. Unlike European and North American cousins – Tolkien’s Smaug, or Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff – it’s doubtful that these dragons of play will be eternally enshrined in Singapore’s popular culture.

Writer and designer Justin Zhuang is taking a particular interest in Singapore’s older playground stock as evidenced in his recent CNN Go report Playing with dragons — Singapore’s playgrounds of the past. He laments the passing of these unique playspaces and continues to comment on Singapore’s playgrounds past and present.

Our playgrounds today are cookie-cutter and instructive — climb up, slide down… then repeat the cycle again. The designs leave children with very little to imagine and explore. With its generic look and conservative safety standards, the playground is designed to be safe for everyone but fun for no one.

Justin Zhuang

It’s time to come out and play was originally published in Singapore Architect #252 and his flickr photos set Old Singapore Playgrounds (18 images) is a growing documentary record.

If you live in Singapore, or are fortunate enough to visit, Justin has created a handy Google Map identifying the whereabouts of the playgrounds that he and his contemporaries loved to play in while growing up.

Some of the playgrounds are visible using the street view function. By clicking through and peeking in, it’s almost like you can hear the bustle of the city. Safety concerns are amongst the primary reasons cited for the phasing out of these uniquely sculptured spaces. In other jurisdictions, concerned citizens have banded together to preserve similar play areas and have them designated as heritage and historical resources. PlayGroundology will share more about this creative strategy in a future post.

The National Library of Singapore has posted a small collection of photos celebrating playgrounds. The library has created a short slide show that pays tribute to vanishing stock and documents the newer playgrounds that are replacing older, local designs. Thanks to sgpix for her assistance in preparing the material so it could be included in this post.

The photos in the slide show are also available as a flicker set with captions – Playgrounds, in Singapore (24 images) – which is part of the much larger Singapore National Album of Pictures.

Scene This Scene That has blogged three of the five remaining playground locations – Sengkang Sculpture Park (65¢), Pasir Ris Park ($1.10), and the West Coast Park (1st Local).

Parents appreciate the play spaces at Vivo City (85¢) one of Singapore’s largest retail complexes. With numerous play stations and a water park area it’s an ideal spot for the kids to get away from shopping mayhem and cool off.
Thanks to xcode for the Vivo City snap. He’s also a bit of a playground buff and is building his own Playground flickr set (95 images).

In addition to the flora and fauna, the Hindhede Nature Park ($2.00) offers a rustic playground experience. Equipment constructed from logs is attuned to the surrounding natural environment. Tire swings are a reminder that the congestion of the city is not too far away. A few flickr photos can be found here.

In the Singapore city-state there is a playground nostalgia in the air. People reminisce about sand, tiled mosaics and the relevant local designs of their youth. Will the remaining older playgrounds just fade away like a puff of dragon’s breath or will there be a move to preserve and maintain the more interesting designs? Perhaps a new cultural aesthetic will emerge that incorporates distinctly Singaporean traits into the playground experience and cultivates another generation of parents and kids who are passionate about their playspaces.

Thanks to Singapore Post for inspiring these few words and thanks to those who provided images. I’ve been looking for commemorative postage stamps of playgrounds from other jurisdictions but have come up empty. If you’re aware of any please drop me a line.

Image credits in order of appearance.

    1. Singapore Post
    2. hsalnat – Lash Tan
    3. National Library of Singapore
    4. xcode – Jerry Wong
    5. Singapore Post

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.