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Objects of exile The special objects young immigrants hold close to their hearts

A Chilean photographer who came to Switzerland as a young woman has used her experience of starting a new life far from home to portray the modern face of young migrants.

Born in Chile in 1960, photographer Vivian Olmi has lived in Switzerland since 1980. She lives and works today in Pully, canton Vaud. At the age of 20, Olmi left Chile while the country was under the dictatorship of Pinochet.

In memory of her country and family, Olmi brought with her a photo album depicting a Chilean landscape on the cover. The memory of her own migration to Switzerland prompted her to document people with similar experiences.

She asked 38 young immigrant students of the Béthusy college in Lausanne to pose in front of a blackboard with an object from their country of origin which they held close to their hearts. Those students who did not have a personal souvenir to document brought something which illustrated how they felt about their own migration. Each student wrote a text in their mother tongue explaining their keepsake.

Olmi intentionally portrayed the students in an educational setting, as she felt school plays an important part in the integration of young people into Swiss society. 

“The classroom is a benevolent and safe space. I asked everyone to face the camera because I did not want to adopt a position of 'voyeur' but to establish with my models a real dialogue as equals,” she explained.

“By making these portraits, I wanted to give these teenagers a way to express themselves, because they have a lot to say about what they have experienced”.