In 2009 I started my amazing project Streets of the World. The idea: to photograph street life in all capitals of the world.
WHY. WOULD. YOU. WANT. TO. DO. THAT...? You might ask yourselves.
Well, let me tell you how it all started
During my travels around the world as a photo journalist, previous of the Streets of the World project, I found that much emphasis in the media is focused on the things that are wrong in this world. Yes, we do have many problems and challenges in our time. But while I was travelling to document those problems and challenges, I also encountered many stories about solutions. I also met many people from all over the world who shared my concerns, and realized how connected we are in our time too.
I wanted to create a sense of unity
It made me realize more and more that we’re in this together. And that we can only solve the massive problems of today if we come together and face them head on. So, I figured it was important to show in the best way that I could, through photography, how much we actually share as human beings around the world, what we do the same, the things that bind us as a species. And from that union of mankind we can then start facing our future together. That is what I set out to do with Streets of the World, I wanted to create a sense of unity.
The streets are the meeting place of people
Travelling to 195 countries and cities, I found exactly what I was hoping for when I started this project seven years ago: my fellow humans. All the streets have things in common but above all they are the meeting place of people, where friendships are born, and where life is discussed.
From Helsinki to Beijing I found that if you take this first step, we can forget borders if we really want to, and that we can cross differences, beat prejudice, racism and discrimination. The individuals I encountered happened to surprise me over and over again with their creative intelligence, their courage in the most difficult circumstances, the joy they showed despite hardship, the hospitality they offered and the jokes we shared with only body language at our disposal.
Let's talk about tommorow, not yesterday
I vividly remember talking for hours with the owner of a famous tea house in the ‘book street’ of Baghdad. He had lost four sons and a son in law in a blast that had destroyed the whole market, but he wanted to talk about tomorrow, not yesterday. He was happy that the books were back, that the world had helped the merchants to refill their stores, and that a fierce act of terror didn’t succeed in suppressing the people. And he was happy that I had chosen his street to show the strength of his people – the very street that had brought him so much sorrow.
These were words of wisdom and hope that brought a tear to my eye as I listened to him talk in the exact place where it all had happened. These are the things that really moved me: strangers meeting and being able to touch each other’s heartstrings. It's one of my dearest photos.
By engaging with all the people I met, I regained my optimism
To discover the street is to go on an individual journey, with all senses alert. I found that I can rely only on my own observations, that the media are helpful, but not able or wanting to encompass it all, and that every fact or story has multiple sides.
My pictures are just a split second of reality, with no pretension to being complete either. All I can say is that my choices have been inspired by the moment and by the individuals who were there, and that I have condensed what I believe are the essential ingredients of the city and culture; of their stories that we can all recognize. My choices are my responsibility. I hope I do my subjects justice.
Taking these photos, I found hopeful answers on the streets. I stumbled happily into compassion, loyalty, courage, improvisation, resilience, humor, intelligence and above all the art of surviving. By engaging with all these people, I regained my optimism. With these strengths we may overcome the massive challenges ahead if we focus on them.
This project is about what unites us as humans, on whatever street we live.
Go and discover the streets yourselves
To me this project is a success if schools start using it to stimulate curiosity among pupils, and if this leads to more tolerance and compassion. If parents would use it to explain to their kids that the world is a good place, despite what they see on television. That we share strengths as humans which can make us excel. Go and discover the streets for yourselves. Shake hands with strangers and talk about your dreams and fears with your fellow human beings, who are not as scary as they might seem.
With open minds and eyes, I am sure we may contribute together to a cleaner, safer, happier and fairer world together.
I wrote a book about my fantastic adventure. From getting the idea to securing the financing, the start of the trip and actually travelling to 195 countries. Discover unknown islands in the Pacific, bustling capital cities and confronting war zones in my very personal and accessibly written modern diary. Please download your free chapter here.
If you want to know more about my travelling life for those 7 years, NatGeo has made a wonderful documentary about which you can find more here.
If you are interested in the technical side of the project and what I find most important about street photography, there is a MasterClass Streets of the World available here.
I hope to see you around in the streets of the world!
Tags Photography Inspiration, Travel Inspiration, Adventure, Netherlands, Jeroen Swolfs