What do you want to be when you grow up? It is a question kids get asked by adults, and their answers reflect the world where they have been raised. When Vincent Tremeau asked that question of children living in Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly all the boys picked soldier, “because they live in the context of war for their whole lives,” Tremeau tells PDN. His project “One Day I Will” is a collaboration with the children he has met while on assignments in Africa, in which he asks them to improvise costumes that represent their future selves. There are teachers, soccer players, farmers and a future president of Mali. Children who had witnessed Ebola often wanted to be doctors and nurses. “I never met any firemen, because there weren’t any,” says Tremeau, who was struck by the inventiveness of the children, who, with limited resources, turned tree branches into guns and ear buds into a stethoscope. An aspiring photographer makes his camera from a juice box, a driver uses a plastic tire to stand in for his future steering wheel. An exhibition of the series, along with work by Meredith Hutchison, is on view and in Brooklyn Bridge Park until October 21, and at the United Nations’s Visitors’ Lobby until October 14.
The project began in 2014, when Tremeau was shooting for an NGO in Central African Republic, documenting a group of Muslim refugees who had taken refuge from the civil war in a Catholic church, where they were protected by UN Peacekeepers but could not leave the compound. “They could not go out, otherwise they would get killed,” he recalls. “I found the situation terrible.” As he photographed, he was followed by 70 children who lived in the compound, laughing at “the white guy with the camera,” a funny thing to them. “Because they were following me everywhere, and wanted to be in the pictures, I wanted to talk with them.” But when he spoke with a little girl, her story was so upsetting she began to cry during the interview, and Tremeau realized a direct approach was too painful for many of the kids. “I thought, How can I address this issue? How can I tell her story? How can we have a common language? That’s how I imagined this game. I thought, I’ll ask all the kids, What do you want to be when you grow up? and ask them to dress up the way they see themselves in the future.” That act of imagination “doesn’t need any words to understand, and also it was just fun to do. It was refreshing,” he says. Since then, he has brought the project to CAR, eastern Congo, Niger, Mali, and to countries affected by Ebola—Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Tremeau plans to continue the series, tacking on shoots to paying assignments when he can, but he doesn’t want the project to get mixed into his paid work. “I like to keep my freedom, which is not easy in terms of funding,” he says, but “I have to continue to do it.”
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