Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Fear & Dreams: The aspirations of young migrants and refugees

Fear & Dreams: The aspirations of young migrants and refugees


The stories of siblings Joudy and Khalil in my new book Fear & Dreams are stories of young lives forced to mature quickly, quite simply because life in their war-ravaged Syria demanded it. The innocent free-abandon of their early teenage years in Damascus was replaced with fear and pain at the indiscriminate conflict in the streets that were once safe routes to meet friends, go to the local grocery store and travel to school.

Stranger: Fear & Dreams by Arteh Odjidja

Like many families with options and time in short supply, Khalil and Joudy’s family decided to leave their home and city to find a way to escape the threat that had engulfed their nation. At 16 years old, Khalil was the first of his family to be given a chance to leave Syria. He was his family’s hope of finding a place of safety. Assisted by his father and a people smuggler in Turkey, he eventually managed to arrive in Greece and then made his way to the UK.

Our paths crossed in 2018 when I had the opportunity to meet and mentor a refugee youth group in London. Khalil and his sister Joudy (who had later joined him in the UK) were part of the group and would often be the most energised and collaborative of my students. For four months, I showed up week after week, and so did they.

Their passion and generosity in sharing their stories was so inspiring to me. It became one of the main reasons I decided to share more of my own family’s story at the start of my book Fear & Dreams.

The results from our four-month span of sessions created far more impact than I could have imagined. That year we exhibited the work the young migrant refugees had created at London City Hall, The British Museum, and before the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Mariam (© Arteh Odjidja)
Ramona (© Arteh Odjidja)
Omar (© Arteh Odjidja)
Omar (© Arteh Odjidja)

Five years on, the Al Dabbas family is now reunited and has recently been adopted by the UK as citizens. It’s been a beautiful, self-actualising journey to observe and take part in. The journey has provided many opportunities and new beginnings for this family, and the future is now looking very bright.

Fear & Dreams is a photo series that explores the very personal and dynamic stories of young migrants and refugees. Through captivating, timeless portraits and candid interviews, this series will allow you to delve deeper into the complexities that constitute the push of oppression and the pull of prosperity that compel so many to cross borders and seek new places to belong. Image ©Arteh Odjidja

About the author

Arteh Odjidja by Thorsten Overgaard
Arteh Odjidja by ©Thorsten Overgaard

Arteh Odjidja is an award-winning photographer and educator specialising in portraiture and fine art photography. He has had the privilege of speaking and exhibiting his work throughout the UK and the US. Arteh considers London his home, but he also draws inspiration from his West African heritage.

London is where he completed his degree in graphic design at the University of the Arts. Growing up with a father working in the filmmaking industry, Arteh developed an early fascination with the creative process.

He took to photography soon after he was given a camera by his mother at age ten. As a professional photographer, Arteh has been commissioned to create work for some of the world’s most recognised brands and is also an Akademie tutor for Leica Camera.

Arteh’s passion to make a positive impact with his work has led him to explore personal projects aiming to highlight stories of those often overlooked in our society and challenge our sense of privilege and equality in a transient, fast-paced, modern socio-economic world.

His work has been exhibited extensively in the US and the UK at the likes of the Tate Modern, The British Museum, London City Hall, and The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. Arteh also speaks at universities and colleges hoping to inspire young creatives.

Arteh Odjidja by ©Miguel Cano

Order your copy of Fears & Dreams here

More Macfilos articles featuring Arteh

Arteh’s forthcoming workshops in Britain:

Photo Walk: Creating an Engaging Street Portrait, London 20 May, London (Sponsored by WEX Photo/Video)

In Conversation: With Arteh Odjidja on Empowering Portraiture, Birmingham, 24 June 2023 (Sponsored by WEX Photo/Video)

Exhibition and Talk: Photo Frome Festival. Decolonising Environments, Frome, Somerset, 24 June-12 July 2023

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  1. And, most important, a great project and very good photography. Deserves to be made known, and Arteh Odjidja is certainly someone you can learn from.

  2. Hmmm . . . this being Thorsten, may we suspect a Noctilux?


    There’s a couple of Thorsten quotes I like. These are his responses when asked how he got such great pictures (this is from memory, so apologies in advance).

    a) You haven’t seen the hundred photos that didn’t work out.

    b) I was there. I had a camera. I took the picture.

  3. I love the evocative portrait by Thorsten – he inspires me to be a be a better photographer.

    • I agree, it’s a cracking photo. Extremely shallow depth of field. Even his collar and his right should are out of focus. What do you think, an f/1.4 wide open? Or even something faster?

      • Hi, Thorsten mostly uses the 50/.95 wide open with rangefinder focussing- amazing skill as well as aesthetic talent. I have most of his training material from over the years and it was a worthwhile investment-more valuable than a new lens for me.

  4. First sentence talks about new book, ends w stack of books photo, forgive me if this isn’t advertising what is?

  5. Dear John Wilson, this “advertisement was “brought to you by Mike Evans” whose understanding of the role of Arteh’s photography highlighting the problems of exile and migration has been brought to us in at least seven previous posts. I for one find that the photography and the compassion behind it warrants our attention on this site.
    My apologies if I mis-interpreted your capitalized comment.

    • Thank you, Tony. I have known Arteh for around ten years since I met him at a pop-up Leica store in the Burlington Arcade in London. He is a lovely person and a superb photographer with a passion for his work. As a Leica Academy instructor, he has made many friends in the Leica firmament. I am sure Thorsten would confirm my impressions. I am always willing to support him in his endeavours, not least because an article such as this gives us the opportunity to stage some of his excellent images. We don’t carry advertising and, certainly, there is no payment involved in this “advertorial” — not even a free book.


      • Fully agree, Mike and Tony, this work is ceratinly worth coverage on Macfilos, and I don’t mind that the photographer is wrting himself. And, please, John Wilson, even if you have a different viewpoint as to where advertising begins – in this case it isn’t, this is a matter of fact. Why? Because adverting means by principle that it is paid for. Which is not the case. JP

  6. The portrait of Ramona definitely left me wanting to see more!

    For who professional photographers, thee must be a tension balance between beng paid for work, and showing it for free online.

    • Hi Kathy, the location for that photo is Sheldon Square in Paddington, London, just a few minutes walk from Paddington Train Station. It is a very cool amphitheater surrounded by tall, green-glass-fronted office and apartment buildings, and adjacent to the Paddington Basin Canal. It is a great part of London to stay if you want easy access to Heathrow via the Paddington Express.

      • Thanks! Knowing that now, I imagine it must have been difficult to find the space empty. But that emptiness is part f the power of the photo.

  7. WHAT THE HELL…the only thing missing is the Tag line this advertisement brought to you by…


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