The decision to move away from the heaving crowds and hectic pace of city life in favor of a quieter existence is one that many parents all over the world are drawn to when raising a family. A choice often made ‘for the children,’ growing up surrounded by nature, open space and animals, offers an appealing backdrop for a peaceful childhood, sheltered from the temptations and unknowns of unpredictable urban living. But what does it feel like to come of age in this kind of contained environment?
Scottish photographer Margaret Mitchell is known for her longterm portrait project of her sister and her children, who were living in a housing estate in the deprived district of Raploch in Stirling. With a tender and intimate gaze, Mitchell looks at everyday life under difficult circumstances, all the while pondering the core question that drives her work: how does place shape our paths in life? In this series, she moves her inquiry away from her familiar territory, journeying instead to a rural community in the Netherlands. Casting her eye on this very different environment, The Eastern Wood portrays the children and teenagers who occupy a hamlet of farmhouses there.
Mitchell asked each of the people she photographed to bring an object that was dear to them, or take her to an important place. Pictured against their green and lush surroundings, the kids of The Eastern Wood also reveal a kind of estrangement from their sleepy childhood habitat, or as she describes it, a “notion of lives yet to be embarked upon”—hopes and dreams for experiences that stretch beyond the limits of their hometown. “Rural versus urban experiences of childhood into young adulthood invite diverse and strong opinion,” Mitchell broods. “Some might consider these portraits of ideal lives. Some might not.”