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In the Millennial bedroom

For six years, John Thackwray travelled the world and photographed 1200 young people in their bedrooms. The result is an intimate portrait of a generation. Ten of the Millennials who were photographed talk about what they expect from life.

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#024 - JOSEPH - 30 years old - artist - Paris - France

Joseph has made a living as an artist in this room, where he sleeps, cooks and creates, for more than a decade. The musician, actor and circus performer views it as a symbol of his discipline and dedication to life as an artist, and he believes that the most powerful and honest art is created in poverty. He laments that life in Paris is becoming more unaffordable, threatening the city’s social and cultural diversity. But he has no plans to give it up:

“The extraordinary architectural inheritance that has made Paris the most visited city in the world – it inspires me anew each and every day. And that’s reason enough to spend another day here.”

France in figures

Birth rate
2.0 children per woman
Life expectancy
82 years
Youth unemployment
22.3 percent
Per capita income
USD 38 500

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#290 - YUAN - 22 years old – waitress - Dali - China

Yuan is a member of the Bai people, one of more than 50 ethnic minorities in China. She lives near the border with Myanmar and is proud of her more than 2000-year-old culture. She wears traditional clothes, which girls receive when they reach puberty, as often as possible. The white ribbon on her hat signifies that Yuan is still single. She understands why an increasing number of her peers are adopting Western-style clothes, as they are more comfortable and cheaper. At the same time, she also sees it as a bit of loss of self-determination.

"We've fought to be able to sustain our culture and identity here in China. Yet, today's Bai youth want to live like Americans or Europeans. It is a part of ourselves that is fading away."

China in figures

Birth rate
1.6 children per woman
Life expectancy
76 years
Youth unemployment
n/a
Per capita income
USD 8800

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#219 - MALEEQ - 28 years old - entertainer - New York - USA

Maleeq lives in Brooklyn, calls himself a performer and dabbles in show business as a singer, dancer, actor and even a stuntman. He supplements his livelihood with fitness and Zumba courses and nutrition consulting. Maleeq is concerned about the health and obesity of many Americans:

"You have to try to stay in shape and keep a healthy lifestyle as long as possible. That's the best way to ward off the kinds of health problems people end up with"

USA in figures

Birth rate
1.8 children per woman
Life expectancy
79 years
Youth unemployment
9.2 percent
Per capita income
USD 59 500

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#1049 - OSIA - 18 years old - herder - Ha Selomo - Lesotho

Osia lives in a small village of a few huts. The nearest paved road is an hour away. When he was 13, his mother and brothers moved to South Africa to find work on large farms. Since then, he has lived alone, tending to a dozen geese and the family’s four cows. He guides the small herd in its search for water, never letting them out of his sight night or day. For Osia, this life does not mean going without, but rather freedom:

"I don't think about anything at all, being out there clears my mind completely. Those are the times I feel the happiest."

Lesotho in figures

Birth rate
3.1 children per woman
Life expectancy
54 years
Youth unemployment
n/a
Per capita income
USD 1180

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#1112 - JENNIFER - 18 years old - gymnast - Le Bouveret - Switzerland

Jennifer lives in a small tourist village on Lake Geneva with two amusement parks. She enjoys spending her free time with friends at the cinema, at the shopping mall or bowling. Having grown up in multilingual Switzerland, she is fascinated by foreign languages. She is convinced that learning a foreign language shapes our entire way of thinking and will become increasingly important in a globalised world. Jennifer speaks fluent French, Spanish and Portuguese, and she is learning German, English and Italian in school. Her life motto and advice to others her age is:

“Enjoy life, every moment, follow your dreams and know that everything is possible. You can do anything you want to. In Switzerland and everywhere else.”

Switzerland in figures

Birth rate
1.5 children per woman
Life expectancy
83 years
Youth unemployment
8.1 percent
Per capita income
USD 80 200

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#416 - OLEG - 24 years old - telecoms engineer - Novosibirsk - Russia

Oleg is from Kazakhstan and came to Novosibirsk to study. He now travels the country for work, installing mobile phone towers. His generation only knows the Soviet era from stories. Oleg’s earliest memories are of the period when Russia experienced an economic crisis and formed long lines at food stores. Now, he finds that things are going better for the country, but everything revolves around money:

"The rich go on thriving, and the poor get poorer. What's worse, our society is becoming more individualistic than ever. Everybody wants to live just like the Americans."

Russia in figures

Birth rate
1.8 children per woman
Life expectancy
72 years
Youth unemployment
16.3 percent
Per capita income
USD 10 700

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#256 - RYOKO - 25 years old - IT engineer - Tokyo – Japan

Ryoko grew up in a small village and wanted to become a police officer, but she was too short. Today, she lives in this room in Tokyo, which is set up like a child’s bedroom. The style that she and others like her have adopted is called “Lolita”. While there is greater openness to dress codes in Japan than elsewhere, she worries about the impact of technology on young people. Many young people would spend their lives working and gaming. The result is sexual abstinence. The number of “sexless” people in Japan means that the country does not produce enough offspring to secure its future.

"We've survived invasions, bombs, and radioactivity. But now the danger is coming from us ourselves. Having a great wealth of technology doesn't necessarily make people happy."

Japan in figures

Birth rate
1.4 children per woman
Life expectancy
84 years
Youth unemployment
4.6 percent
Per capita income
USD 38 400

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#326 - NIKESH - 18 years old - fisherman - Mumbai – India

Nikesh lives in Dharavi, in one of the largest slums in the world, known from the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire”. His large family shares two rooms, with more than a dozen family members sleeping in this room alone. The youngest get the only bed. Most people here work for the wealthy as household servants, chauffeurs or workers. Because the slum is in the heart of the booming city of Mumbai, real estate speculators have lately been trying to buy up the slum’s hovels. Nikesh is resisting them:

"None of us here want to live any other way. We do not want to live isolated in big high-rises like rich people do; we want do continue living with our neighbours. We are happy living this way and we don't want to change."

India in figures

Birth rate
2.3 children per woman
Life expectancy
69 years
Youth unemployment
n/a
Per capita income
USD 1900

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#117 - MAJA - 22 years old - architecture student - Berlin - Germany

Thanks to the internet and cheap airlines, travel has never been easier and more affordable for young people than it is today. Maja is downright addicted to it. She has already been to Thailand, Mexico and many European countries, and she dreams of spending a year travelling the world. Entirely on her own, without being dependent on anyone. Whenever she returns home she gets a case of traveller’s blues and is depressed for a few weeks. But she never regrets leaving:

"Some people think that travel is disorienting, and makes you lose your bearings. But I am convinced, on the contrary, that it connects you to the world around you."

Germany in figures

Birth rate
1.5 children per woman
Life expectancy
81 years
Youth unemployment
6.8 percent
Per capita income
USD 44 500

Source: World Bank

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John Thackwray/myroomphotos.com

ROOM#665 - MARCELLO - 18 years old - pupil - La Paz - Bolivia

Bolivia has the highest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America.
Marcello is a member of the Aymara people, the direct descendants of the Incas. He dreams of becoming a sociologist and researching Aymara music. It makes him sad to see traditions at risk of disappearing as ever more young people - including him - move to the cities:

"I think that is up to each person to make his culture a living culture, and to help it evolve as society changes. Personally, it is by playing Aymara music that I bring my culture to life. I feel proud to honour the memory of my ancestors - and quite simply, it makes me happy."

Bolivia in figures

Birth rate
2.9 children per woman
Life expectancy
69 years
Youth unemployment
7.7 percent
Per capita income
USD 3400

Source: World Bank

In 2010, John Thackwray began his long-term photographic project, the “My Room Project”. The concept: photographing young men and women born in the 80s and 90s, in the places they sleep, all around the world, and interviewing them about their lifestyle, local issues, education, religion, or love. More than 1200 candidates from 55 countries have already participated. It is a consciousness project, combining visual anthropology and social photography, which sparks awareness of the diversity of lifestyles, as well as the destruction of traditions, and the rise of inequalities.

In 2017, the book "My room, portrait of a generation" was released. It's a compilation of one hundred of the most representative photos, showcasing the rooms, together with the testimonies of their inhabitants. The book has been published in English and French so far. The pictures and texts of this article are taken from the book.

The book is available under this link.

You can find more information about the project here.

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