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Le marin, Aboubakar, 9 ans, Cité de la forestièr

Storytelling and the power of perspective

Photographer Iris Della Roca and Rio’s poorest children play a poignant game of ‘make believe’ amongst the city’s streets

Iris Della Roca’s 2011 series Puisque le Roi n’est pas Humble (which translates to, “As the King is not Humble”) is a collection of vibrant and powerful images grown from her desire to do something for people far from her own reality in Paris. A member of pioneering female art collective World Wide Women, she hopes her work will change people's perspective on the stigma of poverty. Drawing on her unique personal experiences of growing up on a boat in Paris, Della Roca started her own project – tripping over to one of Rio’s favelas to volunteer with an NGO. There, she harnessed a uniquely unorthodox method of asking children how they would like to be photographed, putting the power of the lens firmly in their hands. “I wanted to give the kids the opportunity to show themselves as they wanted to be,” she explains. “Presenting to the world who they really are, and what their inspirations are – instead of simply reducing their existence to misery and violence as most of the media does.”

Her images form narratives, capturing that ‘make believe’ mentality of a child’s mind – from a ‘prince’ stroking his ‘pet’ tiger, to a ballerina reaching for the clouds high above the town below, and a 'couple' living it up on the beach. Her motive was simple. She wanted to give the kids the chance to establish their own individual identities, to envision a future for themselves beyond stereotypes and statistics: “It started from the fact that I saw that they didn’t want to be seen as disadvantaged children.”

Her collaborative project makes a revealing statement about the questionable detachment of the travelling observer. Although she relishes the thrill of photographing different cultures, what gives Della Roca’s images meaning – and moves her as an artist – is the connection she makes with others. “Everything that is new for the eye is very inspiring. But the bonds I make with people everywhere I go, that makes me want to talk about them.” She has set out to capture a truth about these children – not as a voyeur, but as a messenger: “What fascinates me is that they are massively creative – there is no limit to their imagination. Through my work people will look at them differently, and the children may look at themselves differently, as enlightened children living in an unenlightened world.”

As the King is not Humble, let the Humble be King is on show from 14 – 21 March, 2015 at The Little Black Gallery, London. Click here for more information.