What do you dream about? One of life’s biggest commonalities – whether you live in Afghanistan or Africa, Haiti or Honduras – is that you dream. You have some vision of the future that is other than your present circumstance. If you’re a kid they can be little things – like sitting through school and dreaming of that ice-cream popsicle sold outside at lunch break, or it can be a big thing, like one day I want to be an astronaut. Your dreams depend on your circumstances and sometimes simply where you are born can determine your destiny. But dreams – well, there are always dreams…
For almost 8 years Dutch photographer Chris de Bode has been working with Save the ChildrenNL on a project about children – their resilience, power, potential…and, above all, dreams. His book Dreams – The Power of Children is released tomorrow. De Bode photographed and spoke with 58 children from 13 countries.
PDN spoke with Chris de Bode about his new book:
PDN: How did the book come about originally?
Chris de Bode: The NGO Save the Children approached me in 2011 to work with them on a concept that would demonstrate the power and potential of children. A dream represents personal identity, creativity and ambition, so we decided to find out if a dream could be captured in a photo. Over the past years, we have managed to recreate the dreams of many powerful, incredible and talented children. They often live in hopeless and depressing circumstances, but manage to rise above these living conditions.
PDN: How did this work logistically – did they send you to different countries to specifically shoot this project, or did you add on days when shooting for other stories for them?
de Bode: In general we added days to the assignments I was given. In that way I could combine project visits with catching dreams. It made it relatively easy to talk to children I met along the way.
PDN: What inspired you about this project?
de Bode: To me, that is the power of children: they have the ability to see the positive, the innocence and the hope, where adults can only see the misery and impossibilities. Most of the children had never been asked the question “what do you dream of?” But all of them had a dream locked up inside them, waiting to be heard. This determination, ingenuity and resilience inspired me to create personal documents, using my skills as a photographer to capture the dream and personality of the child.
PDN: Was it easy to get them to explain their dreams to you?
de Bode: Some children knew exactly what their dream was, others needed encouragement but all of them had clear personal motives for the dream. We discovered that all dreams have one thing in common: they always represent a solution, fulfilment or escape from heartache, longing and ambition.
PDN: Tell us a little about the actual on the ground process?
de Bode: None of the photos were pre-produced. Everything depended on the moment and the few available materials. We were conscious of the fact that there was a thin line between respecting the dream and creating a dress up party. I can honestly say that this project has been the biggest challenge of my career. Every time: one child, one dream and one photo to do justice to the power of a dream.
PDN: Can you tell us about one or two of your favorite kids that you met along the way – and some of the wildest or most ambitious dreams you encountered?
de Bode: It surprised me that I could photograph so many different dreams. At the beginning of the project I feared I would end up with a lot of nurses and policemen dreams. It is hard to pick a few examples since every child was special. One of the most striking examples was a Syrian girl I met in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Emam told me she was fed up with the camp she was living in for some years already. All she could dream about was being able to be on green grass. It sounded so simple, but it was a big thing for her. That touched me a lot. Another kid was Blaise from Haiti. I met him just after the devastating earthquake. He just couldn’t choose one single dream. Taxi driver, car mechanic and to top it all up… being Michael Jackson! We combined all of that in one image. He is for me the example of a resilient child.
PDN: What did you take away from this project?
de Bode: This book is an ode to the power of children. It bundles hope for the future, as these children will one day lead the world. I learned from this project that children know what they need to change their circumstances. But it requires encouragement and a little help to achieve their ambitions. I hope that by acknowledging the dream through this project, we have lit a spark in the hearts of the children. It is my ultimate goal as a photographer to make people more sensitive of the world around them and to put things in perspective. I hope that this book will inspire you to look beyond the living conditions of children and see the child itself.”