Caroline Irby, Foreword by Aminatta Forna,
A Child from Everywhere: Photographs and interviews of children from 185 countries living in the UK
Black Dog Publishing (UK), in association with Oxfam, 2010.
Every now and again a book arrives on the scene that simply takes one’s breath away: such a book is A Child from Everywhere, a collection of photographs and interviews of children, from a staggering 185 of the 192 countries in the world, all living in the UK. Ranging in age from a few months to sixteen years old, some have migrated to the UK for the sake of their parents’ work, some are refugees; certainly, none of them is living in the UK through their own decision. Renowned photographer Caroline Irby has created a blend of perspectives (the observed and the observing) that highlights the extraordinary resilience of many of the children, as well as their openness of expression, both physical and verbal.
The book is divided into five sections: Leaving and Arriving, Settling In, Being Here, Looking Back, and The Future. Each portrait has a quotation from its subject alongside – ranging from a single phrase to several paragraphs, and in the case of the tots, given by a parent. Many of the quotations are poignant and convey a wealth of meaning in just a few words. Each gives a glimpse into that child’s world: where they’ve come from, their opinion of the UK, food, shopping, school, play, their aspirations…
The photographs themselves are simply stunning. Each portrait seems to capture a little bit of the essence of the child – and indeed of childhood itself. Most of the children are aware of the camera, and whether they are gazing straight into the lens (like 11-year-old Fernando from Mexico, who likes Irish dancing) or far into a distance that’s not there (like Guilad, 15, who was forced to leave his home in Somalia), there is a candour that demonstrates the trust Irby must have gained from her subjects - further exemplified by the lovely questions asked by the children and cited as an afterword under “Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”
At first glance A Child from Everywhere may look like it’s a book for adults about children. It certainly is that (and Aminatta Forna’s insightful foreword will resonate particularly with its adult audience): but it is also a wonderful book that will incite curiosity and empathy in young people of all ages, who will love looking at the photographs and reading what their subjects have to say, uncluttered by extra commentary. Caroline Irby is to be congratulated for creating such a beautiful book that can be enjoyed and pondered at so many levels.