“When you grow up in a conflict zone, you grow up very quickly,” says the Swedish photographer, after shooting across Europe and the Middle East. This article was first published in the July issue of BJP
Swedish documentary photographer Loulou d’Aki’s Make a Wish has been a long time in the making. The project, which was shortlisted for the Grand Prix at Lodz Fotofestiwal this year, revolves around the aspirations and dreams of young people across the globe, recorded in a sweeping compilation of portraits and landscapes. Shot alongside commissions for international publications such as Le Monde, The New York Times and Die Zeit, it evolved over a number of years, charting the photographer’s life on the move.
The story of Make a Wish begins with d’Aki’s own dream of becoming a photographer. Formerly a singer, she switched to photography by pursuing an MA in Rome before moving to Paris in the hope of kickstarting her career. While attempting to juggle assisting and working in a café, she became interested in the city’s youth.
“I took portraits of those who intrigued me merely by their appearance and asked them to write their dreams in my notebook,” she says. “When I started out on this project I never imagined it would take this long, or how much the work would mutate within its given frame.”
During a stint in Venice photographing boys in an Orthodox Jewish college, the photographer made two friends who lived in Jerusalem. In 2011, she decided to set up base there and continue working on the project. As d’Aki travelled across the Middle East to cover the watershed events of the Arab Spring, Make a Wish soon shifted to encompass the tumultuous changes the region was undergoing and how they affected the choices and aspirations of the subjects. Against a backdrop of conflict, the fragility of youthful freedom was thrown into sharp relief.
“When I started the project I was interested in the idea that youth is potentially an age of infinite possibilities. I wanted people to tell me their dreams and hoped that they would be unrealistic and impossible,” d’Aki explains. “Then I realised how much dreams and aspirations are conditioned by society, but also how important it is to keep aspiring.”
The final project comprises portraits of young people living in Gaza, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and other areas in the Middle East, images taken along the Balkan route followed by migrants journeying through Europe, as well as photographs shot in more peaceful parts of the world.
“I found that when shooting these portraits in the midst of important social changes, turmoil and conflict, the dreams and hopes are no longer focused only on the individual but are naturally affected by what happens around them,” d’Aki says. “In Europe, Japan or Canada, dreams have a tendency to be more about personal gratification. I like having these quiet places as counterpoints as it gives an idea of what I want to communicate.”
From pleas for peace and shelter to dreams of career success, this patchwork of contrasting experiences is a portrait of the turbulent times we live in; a world where the carefreeness of youth is a privilege. “When you grow up in a conflict zone, you grow up very quickly,” says d’Aki.