The first major UK solo show of French photographer, Iris Della Roca, comprises a selection of prints taken throughout her six-year transatlantic series, which sees children born into poverty transform their lives through the lens of the camera. Della Roca, having spent much of her childhood on her father’s sailing boat, travelling from continent to continent, travelled to Rio de Janeiro in 2009 at the age of 24 and since then has lived between her home, Paris, and what might be considered its polar opposite, the largest favela in South America.
It was while working with an NGO which provides Rocinha’s disadvantaged children an escape from the street that Della Roca discovered the stigma held towards these children, made conspicuous by their appearance, which they wished to be free from. Della Roca, considering photography a collaborative practice, then asked them the simple question: “How do you want people to see you?”
The answers she was given align with the fantasies of children living anywhere: as a “king,” “fairytale queen,” “top model,” “movie star” the list goes on. Della Roca then gave her subjects the props and costumes needed to act out their aspirations, as they directed their own shoot and transformed their own lives for a moment – caught on film permanently.
The work gives another view of the favela: these are not sympathetic or sombre images, as their young subjects face the camera with a pride and determination captured with a bold clarity resembling a fashion shoot more than documentary photography. Carefully constructed yet set in the children’s homes and according to their direction, Della Roca’s photographs depict personalities without restraint or shame, without boundaries.
A young girl looks down through green feathered eyelashes at the orange butterfly perched on her shoulder, corrugated iron roofs falling as her backdrop; a young boy looks up to grey skies, a dusting of snow dresses his trilby, and his heavy fur coat seems to provide no protection against his icy surroundings – indeed, Della Roca’s series continued upon her return to Paris, in the deprived area of Clichy-Sous-Bois. In the similarities between images of Rio’s favelas and the Parisian suburbs, we see the universality of children’s ideals and notice the unjust nature of their inequality.
Elsewhere a little boy hopefully clutches a red, heart-shaped foil balloon as his young ‘bride’ stands grumpily behind him, arms crossed; two adolescents recline assuredly on sun-loungers, their long, skinny limbs and grazed knees conflicting with the title, Les Riches à la Plage (the rich on the beach) – Della Roca’s images also provide upbeat humour, communicating the energy of their subjects, as much as their naïve beauty and creative spirit.
This exhibition is presented by World Wide Women, an all-female collective of 34 women, living all over the world, which represents the indomitable spirit of women in today’s art world and acts as a platform to support, exhibit and sell the work of female artists.
Iris Della Roca: As the king is not humble, may the humble be king, 14 – 21 March, The Little Black Gallery, 13A Park Walk, London, SW10 OAJ. For information visit www.thelittleblackgallery.com.
Follow us on Twitter @AestheticaMag for the latest news in contemporary art and culture.
1. Copyright Iris Della Roca, courtesy of the artist and The Little Black Gallery.