Sharjah: If we could visualise the dreams of children from troubled backgrounds, what would we see?
Dutch photographer Chris de Bode has spent eight years capturing images of children in more than a dozen countries to reveal their aspirations in vivid, dreamlike portraits. Complied in his latest book, ‘Dream’, the series will be showcased at the Xposure International Photography Festival, which begins at Expo Centre Sharjah on Wednesday.
Each photograph portrays a child with an element — real or symbolic — in the frame representing his or her dream for a better future. A girl next to a graffiti of an air plane on the wall — a future pilot perhaps; a boy in a slum wearing a T-shirt that reads: ‘I’ll find a place of my own’; are some of the illustrations.
Struck by harsh reality
A documentary and portrait photographer, De Bode finally followed his own childhood dream of becoming a professional photographer after spending some years as a climbing instructor. During the course of his work, De Bode was struck by the harsh reality of children in conflict zones and decided to document their dreams in his ‘I have a dream’ series — a project that was eventually turned into a bestselling book. He discovered that there was something common to all their dreams — each represented a solution, fulfilment or escape from heartache, longing and ambition. The series will now be exhibited as part of the fifth edition of Xposure, being held till Thursday.
Specialising in recording humanitarian issues around the world, De Bode has been commissioned by several NGOs such as Save the Children, Stop Aids Now, and Greenpeace, among others. He has also worked with several United Nations agencies such as UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and World Health Organisation (WHO).
How it all began
De Bode told Gulf News how a trip to Ethiopia long ago had inspired the Dream project. “Around seven years before we started the Dream project, I worked on a similar story in a remote village in Ethiopia. There I asked children what they wanted to become when they grew up. It turned out to be a striking set of images that became the reason why I was asked to start the Dream project. Together with Save the Children NL we embarked on an eight-year journey,” he said.
‘Some children are closed as an oyster’
Chris de Bode
De Bode met some of the children in schools or in projects run by Save the Children. It wasn’t easy getting some of them to share their dreams. “Some are talkative, while others are closed as an oyster. We gave all of them space and time to express their thoughts. It appeared that children living in a post-war zone had much more difficulty to use their fantasy than the others. Most of these children wanted to become a soldier or a nurse, inspired by the hostile world around them. Living day by day was much more important than plans for the future.”
Chris said photographing children can be hard, but it becomes easier if you try to do things together. “Let them take the lead. Listen and create a world they feel comfortable in. Ask them about their favourite place, role models and help them feel free,” he added.
De Bode is always busy with multiple projects at the same time. He recently finished a story on the garments industry in Myanmar. In the coming months, he will be working around the Mediterranean Sea, focusing on bad food habits among young people.