For two years, Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti travelled around the world to nearly 60 countries taking thousands of portraits of children with their favourite toys. From Indonesia to Sweden, Costa Rica to Alaska, children showed him their most valuable possessions. The project has received much love: it’s a theme we can all relate to and of course makes us smile! From 7th June, a collection of Gabriele’s images will be shown at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.
I had a chat with Gabriele ahead of the exhibition. He had to rush off half way through though, as his best friend had just given birth. A fitting end to an interview about children!
Hello! Where did your idea to do Toy Stories come from?
I started this project almost by chance! The first photo that I took of this series was in Tuscany, the girl with the cows in the background. She's the daughter of one of my best friends. My friend asked me to photograph her child, so I went to their house and she was playing with the cows. I thought that situation was really nice and I decided to take the photo of her there, with the cows and together with her toys. Some months later, when I was about to start my trip around the world I decided to take the same kind of photo in every country that I was going to visit.
At the time of the project I was working for one of the major Italian magazines – D La Repubblica – on a project about CouchSurfing. This meant that I travelled to 58 countries staying only on people’s couches. Every week, I had a page in the magazine about my trip where I published a portrait of the couch surfer who was hosting me that week and his/her story. All the children I photographed are somehow connected to the couch surfers that hosted me along my long trip. They are their children, their nephews, or their neighbors.
Kids can be possessive of their toys. Was it hard to get them to relinquish them so you could make the arrangements for the photos?
Actually it was really easy! Generally speaking though, I would say that it was easier in the poorest countries. Rich children tend to be more possessive of what they have than children in poor countries with not as many toys.
Most of the time it was easy to get their trust. I always had my phone with me to show them the other photos I’d taken so they could see what I was doing. I was surprised to see how easy it was for children to understand my project.
You photographed such a big range of children, but what similarities did you notice between them?
The only thing that is similar for each of them is that every child between three and six just LOVES to play.
Tell me about one of your favourite portraits from the series
I was in this little village in the north part of Zambia where there is nothing; no electricity, no running water, and of course no toy stores. So it was almost impossible to find a child with a toy. They would all play outside with whatever they found. The day before I arrived however, this little girl Maudy had found a box full of colourful plastic sunglasses on the ground along the main road, possibly fallen from a truck, so the kids were all playing with them.
There was also Taha, a Palestinian boy I photographed in Beirut, Lebanon. Him and his family were refugees living in a camp. He didn’t want to pose for me, and was crying so much I decided to give up and not take his portrait. But his mother didn’t let me go away, she said, ‘You need to have a Palestinian boy for your project, you have to take a picture of my son!’ So I spent almost two hours waiting for her to convince Taha to pose for me. He did stop crying for three minutes which was just long enough to take his portrait!
And lastly, what was YOUR favourite toy growing up?
It was a little monkey called Bingo Bongo. That would have featured in my portrait if the shoe had been on the other foot.
To see more of Gabriele's amazing work take a visit over to his website - www.gabrielegalimberti.com