Photographer Antonio Pérez Gil uses only soap and a camera to create his captivating photo series BubblesWorld , which depicts children from around the world playing with bubbles in their respective communities.This simple and personal project is a heartfelt reflection about the universal beauty of childhood, regardless of disparities in living conditions.
“IN AKKA, a little village in the middle of the desert in Southern Morocco, the borders fell away. I suddenly realized that a wall can be broken, using a simple and universal language,” recalls Antonio Pérez, thinking of his first time engaging a group of children with a homemade bubble blowing device and a jug of laundry detergent. He was not thinking about taking photographs then – simply willing to make a connection.
Antonio Pérez Gil, born in Madrid in 1970, is a professional photographer and professor living in Sevilla. Spanning from 1998 to the present, BubblesWorld documents children from over 46 countries rejoicing in seas of soap bubbles. In 2009, BubblesWorld was featured in a twelve-image spread for the Caja Navarra calendar, accompanied by a 3,000-euro prize. Despite having received a variety of awards and magazine spreads – including the 2008 Andalusian Prize for Arts and Sports and the Migrations Award in 2007 – this ongoing body of work has simple origins.
“This project has been a driving force in my life,” states Antonio. After realizing the “therapeutic and uniting” effect that a simple soap bubble can have, Antonio began to travel all over the globe with his perfected batch of supplies. “I have learned that it is a process, sometimes you need to find a point of entry. For instance, singing a song the children are familiar with or reciting something,” he continues. “Other times I found myself alone in the street, blowing bubbles, and within ten minutes, children appear as if from thin air.”
In action, Antonio is, to his core, a multi-tasker. When working, he seamlessly fills his homemade bubble blower with soap, converses with the people surrounding him in their native language and snaps a constant stream of photos.
“I enjoy myself, alongside the children, along-side people of all ages,” he says. “Everyone has a good time. It is something so simple, so scientifically perfect and ephemeral, how it constantly transforms, almost an illusion…” Stepping backwards through the narrow cobblestone streets of Hebron, Palestine, he is surefooted. The children leap and grasp the drifting bubbles; Antonio constantly readjusts the angle, focus, and exposure of his digital camera, taking photos in quick bursts as to capture a complete action. People walking down the street cannot help but stop and watch, unable to hide a fleeting smile.
Despite the innocence and simplicity of the idea, BubblesWorld is seldom executed without its own unique obstacles. Upon arrival in a new country, Antonio typically draws attention while passing through customs due to the massive jug of unknown laundry detergent solution he carries with him. On one such occasion, airport security in Tel Aviv immediately questioned him over concerns raised by the mixture. Already anticipating the scrutiny, he pulled out his computer and flipped through his collection of photos from the BubblesWorld series. Though it is strictly against airport rules, his 6-liter jar of bubbles has yet to be confiscated.
After successfully passing through customs, another challenge presents itself. Depending on the temperature of each potential shooting site, Antonio has a precise and practiced bubble recipe; laundry detergent alone is incapable of producing optimal bubbles in climates with extreme heat, cold or humidity. “If there is snow, and it is very cold, the bubble will rapidly burst, because the particles crystallize,” explains Antonio. “To combat the influences of temperature change, I mix 6 liters of Fairy laundry detergent with either Vaseline or sugar, depending on the circumstances.” Antonio also hand-makes his bubble blowing devices from household items that cannot be found in most of his shooting locations, causing further difficulties.
One of Antonio’s most distinct memories takes him back to 2004, when he spent eight weeks in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shooting photos for an Andalusian corporation in order to help them allocate money toward different foreign aid ventures. Often hired to document the poverty of communities living in developing or war-ridden countries, Antonio relieves stress by taking more lighthearted photos and playing with the local children.
“A lot of times, I find that when you are constantly surrounded by hardship and sadness, it is very hard not to internalize despair. I am assigned to take photos in communities with economic difficulties, with war, with hardship; I have to have a creative outlet. In my free time, I used BubblesWorld as a personal type of therapy,” says Antonio. In places like Haiti – where, at that time, only 50 percent of people had access to an improved water source and more than 80 percent of people had no access to sanitation – losing hope becomes inevitable. With such a large portion of the country’s youth uneducated or orphaned, it only makes sense to focus on the children.
“The large majority of the time, when I embark on photographic projects for large corporations or government bodies, it feels as though I am taking more than I can possibly give, in knowledge and in new friendships, in love. I feel full after learning and experiencing new cultures,” he says, describing the urge to give back to the communities he photographs. For Antonio, BubblesWorld has become a source of relief, a deep breath of fresh air. Not to mention, it’s a great excuse to go on vacation.
While flipping through the BubblesWorld series, an international collection of adolescent faces clamoring for more bubbles wordlessly articulates the universality of youthful joy. A boy leaping to pop a bubble in Accra, Ghana becomes indiscernible from the boy in Hakone, Japan.
Antonio, the photographer turned advocate for humanity, smiles to himself. How could he possibly pick one story to summarize an experience, a project, a passion that has spanned more than ten years, 46 countries, countless communities and thousands of bubbles? “It’s not a special idea,” he acknowledges. “Neither a fantastic idea, nor an idea that is going to change the world. But it is simple, and it is important to me, as well as to the people with whom I work.