–project description and purpose


The face tells its story: of laughter, worry, hope and fear. It's a landscape, a map of our experiences. Each face expresses its personal fate and is, at the same time the face of mankind.

From the instant of birth we inevitably age. A fact uniting all living beings and transcending the limitations of race, religion, nationality and language.

The GLOBAL PHOTO PROJECT acknowledges life's transience as a fundamental human condition that can give everyday life meaning, a necessity for human growth. I want to contribute to a heightened feeling for life and an increased empathy for all of us who share this time on earth.


The GLOBAL PHOTO PROJECT originates from an earlier project produced in 1997 for the Science Center "Tom Tit's Experiment" in Södertälje, Sweden. I photographed 168 people; the youngest was a newborn baby, the next youngest was six months old, the next was one year old, then a year and a half, two years etc. The oldest person was 103 years old.
I made black-and-white pictures, close up, no make-up, no jewelry, no gestures, poses or smiles. Just the naked faces. The enlargements, hung like a string of pearls around one of the large exhibition halls, are part of the the Center's permanent exhibition on Health and the Body.

Since then the basic concept has evolved and expanded. It now has a global perspective and is connected with multiple issues of social development, in collaboraton with humanitarian organizations, embassies, hospitals, schools, museums, universities etc.

I have been continuing the concept and research and creating equivalent photo series in country after country around the globe or, to be more precise in site after site.
The number of people being photographed is proportional to the average life expectancy, so in each country, one photograph for each year of life. In other words, each location is represented by 50-80 people depending on site. Life expectancy varies greatly around the world, over 80 years (women) in e.g. Japan or Sweden while less than 50 years in some African countries. This indicates radically different conditions governing life expectancy, and raises many political and social questions.

In addition to the statistics of life-expectancy, also ethnicity and socioeconomic variation of the citizens at the specific site is included. Since no statistics are presented in direct connection to any specific portrait, the meeting with the naked face seems to raise even more questions. The viewer is left to guess who is a man/woman, who might be an executive or working in the fields, who might be gay, Muslim, Christian, atheist, foreigner etc. and ultimately whether friend or foe. Our prejudices are challenged as it is not possible to immediately place people in categories for the sake of our comfort.

The exhibitions are being presented not only in public sites, such as streets, parks, galleries, museums and railway stations, but also in unconventional arenas, office spaces and conference rooms. The portraits may thus be exposed to people who in one way or another can affect the life conditions of those who are portrayed.

An important part of the GLOBAL PHOTO PROJECT is to utilize the pictures and exhibitions to create spaces, large and small, for people to come together to reflect and exchange both research results and personal experiences on matters that matter. The pictures of the naked faces, eyes which contain so many questions seem to have a "warming" effect on the space that support honest self reflection and authentic meetings with others. Seminars, workshops and different forms of dialoge are arranged, from class-room format to larger forums.

Once enough material for a global comparison is produced and parallel with local projects and activities, all the photographs will be assembled into a large touring exhibition.
Books, documentary films, as well as TV and Internet-versions of this work are also planned.

It is an immensely exciting and never-ending lifetime project and when my own timeline is coming to an end I may pass the camera on to somebody else to continue.



2017 Participation in 10:th European Public Health Conference at Stockholmsmässan.

In 2015 one of the series was exhibited in Galleri Berga, Stockholm, an art gallery connected with a nursing home for people with dementia. Workshops were arranged.

In August 2012 I was invited as keynote speaker at an International Conference on Empathy at the Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge at Södertörn University in Sweden to present the work.
Researchers within the fields of Philosophy, Psychology and Medicine met with practitioners to exchange theories and practical experiences.

In September - October 2009 an exhibition with the added title “Besökstid” (Visiting hours) was presented in the Cathedral of Linköping/Sweden. 75 portraits from Kyrgyzstan were exhibited as a time-line. Bishop Martin Lind summoned all ministers and deacons in the Diocese of Linköping for three days of meetings and dialogue. In addition to the exhibiton I held an opening speech addressing the themes of globalization, identity and human values.

In 2007 the 13th International Conference on Thinking took place at the Louis De Geer Concert and Congress Hall in Norrköping/Sweden. I presented theproject with a lecture, workshop and a slide show.

The project was in 2006 selected by the Swedish Institute to be part of the "Sweden Upgrade", a journey through Russia with the aim of presenting an image of modern Sweden. The 73 Russian portraits, each enlarged to approximately one meter square were exhibited in the Chuvasian National Museum in Cheboksary and in Proekt Fabrika in Moscow.

That same year the Russian series was also part of an International Seminar in Moscow on the low fertility rate in the country, organized by UNFPA and Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation. Demographic expertise from all over the world was gathered together with representatives from the government and regions throughout the country. The walls of the seminar hall were decorated with faces of the citizens the seminars were all about.

In 2006 the Kyrgyzstan portraits were photographed. They were partly made in the UN house in Bishkek but many "models" fulfilling the criteria of age, gender, ethnicity and varied social background were found as we were setting up mobile studios in market places and other public areas. We also worked in old-age homes, a sanatorium, a crisis center and neighboring villages.

In 2004, collaboration with the UN in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, commenced. Other partners are the Swedish Honorary Consulate and the American University in Central Asia.

In 2003-2004 the Project in Thailand was accomplished in co-operation with the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, UNFPA, PPAT, SI and the Chiangmai City Museum. Exhibitions were presented and seminars on health and quality of life were arranged.

In 2002 the photo part of the project in Russia was finalized in co-operation with the Swedish Embassy and the State Technical College School of Visual Arts in Moscow.


Are you interested in contributing to the growth and realization of the project? Do you have ideas about sites and contexts where to produce new images and exhibitions? Ideas about how and where to create spaces for self-reflection, meetings and dialogue?
Possible partners or sponsors?
Would you like to be informed about the progress?

Please do get in touch!

Ivar Sviestins,
Stockholm, 2018-06-10