Alice Aedy is a photographer and documentary maker who has become known for sharing images and stories of refugees via Instagram. “I feel very positive about my generation: it has become cool to care,” she says
Baby boomers may still run the world, but what can we expect from the next generations? Young western adults today are stereotyped by some as ‘snowflakes’ – a group of entitled, politically correct, selfie-taking, free speech-suppressing and emotionally vulnerable souls with no grip on the realities of the world.
But this misses the new world they are creating. We meet five young people from the UK who are changing society for the better. They say that many in their generation stand for compassion, diversity, social entrepreneurship, true freedom of expression and opportunity for all. No snowflakes, just an avalanche of change.
“People in my generation are asking more questions than ever before,” says 25-year-old photographer and documentary maker Alice Aedy. “We want to know where our clothes are from, where our food is from, and who or what has been damaged in the process. We’re forced to ask questions because of the state of affairs. I feel very positive about my generation: it has become cool to care.”
Moved by images she had seen in the press, Aedy was 22 when she decided to board a plane to Greece. Arriving in the north, she signed up as a volunteer for Help Refugees, one of Europe’s largest grassroots distributors of aid. As a self-taught photographer, she took a camera, but didn’t feel able to use it at first. “At first I thought, what right do I have to photograph these people and their suffering?” says Aedy. “But then I realised that unlike a photographer who has been sent somewhere by a newspaper for a day or two, I had really got to know people. I had the chance to tell their stories in a different way.”
She began to take portraits of the families she had come to consider friends, sharing the shots via Instagram and even being published on the front page of a national paper. At a time when migrants were being referred to by the likes of David Cameron as “swarms”, Aedy wanted to humanise the crisis.
She has kept in touch with one particular family of Syrian Kurds, all the way from Greece in 2016 until now. “When I met them, they were living in terrible conditions: a family of six with an 11-month-old baby in a two-man tent. Their blankets were wet where they slept.” The family then moved from an informal camp in Greece to a military-run camp funded by the UN.
In summer 2017, Aedy surprised the family at their new apartment in France, where they have finally been given asylum and have begun to rebuild their lives, getting work permits and attending school. “There was a lot of screaming,” says Aedy, smiling, recalling the visit.
I feel very positive about my generation: it has become cool to care
Social media has helped bring to the fore more people’s voices, Aedy believes, young people among them. “We don’t have to go through the traditional gatekeepers any more. If you want your story to be heard, you don’t need to try to persuade an older, white journalist at The Sunday Times to listen to you, you can be from sub-Saharan Africa and tell your story, which I think is amazing.”
Her generation has a thirst for knowledge, to understand the world as it truly is. “I don’t want to see the world reflected back at me by other white, privileged, middle class people,” she says. “I want to see and hear a diversity of viewpoints. Rather than me flying in, I want local journalists and local photographers to tell their own stories.”
On the flipside, social media has a shadow side, of course, which concerns Aedy. “I worry about our ability to feel content and satisfied in ourselves and in our lives, personally and professionally. I follow the world’s best photographers and filmmakers on Instagram, for example, so I constantly compare my work to the best in the world. It’s hugely inspiring, but it’s intimidating too.”
We don’t have to go through the traditional gatekeepers any more. You can be from sub-Saharan Africa and tell your story, which I think is amazing
There is insecurity when it comes to everyday living as well. Hers has been dubbed ‘generation rent’, after all, and Aedy is one of a growing number of young freelancers in the UK.
“There was that really funny article saying millennials can’t afford to buy property because they spend all their money on avocado and toast,” says Aedy, who is based in London, head thrown back in laughter.
But her generation is much less likely than previous ones to define success in monetary terms anyway, she observes. “Young people today really value creativity and courage. Certainly, the people I most admire are not the most highly paid: it’s people with wisdom and courage who are passionate about raising awareness about something. We have inherited lots of issues, but I feel very optimistic about my generation.”