IKEA explores ‘Life At Home’ with the help of Annie Leibovitz and six young photographers

Maria Arrechea with friends, Mayuko Nicolaysen, Pau and Leno in her apartment in Berlin, Germany
Maria Arrechea with friends, Mayuko Nicolaysen, Pau and Leno in her apartment in Berlin, Germany Copyright © Annie Leibovitz. From IKEA Artist in Residence: Annie Leibovitz.
By Anca Ulea
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"We needed a new perspective on how to portray the home." IKEA’s “Life At Home” project is now on display for Paris Fashion Week.

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At first glance, Annie Leibovitz and IKEA seem like an unlikely duo.

The 74-year-old US photographer is a living legend, known for her striking portraits of some of the most familiar faces in popular culture, like the famous photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon taken 5 hours before the Beatle was killed.

Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Swedish furniture conglomerate has become a household name for its affordable Scandinavian designs, which often furnish college students’ apartments around the world.

But IKEA and Leibovitz have at least one thing in common – they both have intimate knowledge about people's homes.

IKEA has been compiling data for ten years for its annual Life At Home Report, interviewing thousands of people about what their needs are when it comes to their space. Leibovitz has also spent decades going to other people’s homes to photograph them.

“I’ve always been fascinated by homes,” Leibovitz said ahead of the opening of the “IKEA+” exhibition in Paris. “Usually when I’m going to photograph someone, I ask if I can document their home because there’s the chair they sit in, their clothes are there...”

That’s why she jumped at the chance to collaborate with IKEA on a photo project that aimed to answer a pressing question: How do people really live at home?

“As a photographer, you just can’t dream about a better, more fascinating and incredible project to be asked to work on,” Leibovitz said.

Ceramics artist Yusuke Onimaru at his kiln in his home in Fukuoka, Japan.
Ceramics artist Yusuke Onimaru at his kiln in his home in Fukuoka, Japan.© Annie Leibovitz. From IKEA Artist in Residence: Annie Leibovitz.
Annie Leibovitz's photographs on display at the IKEA+ event in Paris.
Annie Leibovitz's photographs on display at the IKEA+ event in Paris.© Ingka Group. IKEA+
Annie Leibovitz's photos on display at the IKEA+ event in Paris.
Annie Leibovitz's photos on display at the IKEA+ event in Paris.© Ingka Group. IKEA+

The “Life At Home” project consists of 25 photographs taken by Leibovitz in seven countries around the world, showing people in and around their homes.

Projected on huge screens in a spacious atelier in Paris’ Bastille neighbourhood, the photographs can be viewed by the public at the “IKEA+” exhibition during Paris Fashion Week.

The subjects are people of all ages, photographed with their families, friends, roommates, or alone, in spaces they consider “home.” Some are on their beds, others in their gardens, kitchens, workshops or living rooms.

“They were supposed to be individual portraits,” Leibovitz said. “But you couldn't help but be taken in by what you came across when you walked into someone’s home – their family, their sister, their child, their life.”

Leibovitz, who grew up in a large family with five siblings herself, said she wanted to capture this human element along with defining features of each person’s surroundings.

Multiplying perspectives of what home looks like

For Ingka Group Creative Director Marcus Engman, who led the collaboration with Leibovitz, the goal was to refresh IKEA’s vision of what home means to people around the world.

“I think that at IKEA we have shown a lot of homes and done home visits and talked about how to furnish your home, but we maybe forgot about what it is that brings life into the home, which is people,” Engman told Euronews Culture.

His team reached out to Leibovitz after IKEA’s latest Life At Home Report showed that 48 percent of people globally don’t feel that their life at home is accurately represented in the media.

“We needed a new perspective on how to portray the home, and so Annie was providing that with her gorgeous pictures,” Engman said. “But while discussing, we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to bring this to the next generation? To have this discussion with more eyes on it?”

Annie Leibovitz and her mentees look at their work at the IKEA+ exhibition in Paris.
Annie Leibovitz and her mentees look at their work at the IKEA+ exhibition in Paris.© Ingka Group. IKEA+

So Engman and Leibovitz expanded the project, inviting six young photographers from around the world to complete the same assignment as Leibovitz.

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The mentorship programme gathered young artists from the United States, France, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Romania and Ukraine, who produced intimate photo series under Leibovitz’s guidance. Each photographer tells a unique story of home, with their own distinct style.

“I realised that the notion of how we inhabit a space is a recurring theme in my work without my realising,” said Zélie Hallosserie, a photography student based in Lille, France.

Aaliyah lying on her grandmother's bed.
Aaliyah lying on her grandmother's bed.© Zélie Hallosserie. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
Aaliyah in the bathtub at her grandma's house.
Aaliyah in the bathtub at her grandma's house.© Zélie Hallosserie. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

Her series follows her friend Aaliyah in her grandmother’s home, a space she considers more “home” than where she lives on a daily basis.

“I found it interesting that for her, home isn’t her home, but rather her grandmother’s,” Hallosserie told Euronews Culture. “She can’t go a week without visiting, it’s a different relationship to the concept of home.”

Next to her, Ka’Vozia Glynn from the US turned her lens towards an older woman in her neighbourhood, who she met while delivering a package at her home.

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Ms. Daisy pointing to photographs on the wall in her home.
Ms. Daisy pointing to photographs on the wall in her home.© Ka'Vozia Glynn. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
Ms. Daisy in her home with her toy collection.
Ms. Daisy in her home with her toy collection.© Ka'Vozia Glynn. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

“My intuition, that little voice kept telling me ‘Go get those shots,’ this is the story you want to tell,” Glynn said of approaching her subject, Ms. Daisy. “Annie would tell us to follow that voice and take risks. The worst they can say is no.”

For Ms. Daisy, home was a collection of memories, cultural artefacts that told the story of the Black American experience.

“She reminds me a lot of one of my grandmas who passed away, just certain artefacts, the way she is, the way she communicates, the grace, and even just the cultural symbols in her house,” Glynn said.

Hurduc's partner Diana and their dog.
Hurduc's partner Diana and their dog.© Toma Hurduc. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
"I wanted to capture the moments and the little details which make up life and living together," Hurduc said.
"I wanted to capture the moments and the little details which make up life and living together," Hurduc said.© Toma Hurduc. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

Romanian documentary photographer Toma Hurduc's collection of square snapshots shows his partner Diana and the home they share, exploring how their two homes became one.

"I really hate big gestures of love, like flower bouquets," Hurduc told Euronews Culture. "I wanted to photograph the little intimate moments which make you feel at home and which make up the vast majority of a relationship. I tried to get close and make it look like it’s not the camera, it’s what I’m seeing in a way."

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Reflecting the complex reality of home

More than anything, the photos featured in IKEA’s mentorship project speak to the complexities of the human experience and how that’s reflected in our homes.

Elena Kalinichenko, a photographer from Kyiv, followed her friend Anna who lost her home during the war with Russia. Anna lives with a friend now and everything she owns fits in a small corner of her bedroom.

Anna looking out the window in her friend's home. She left her home during the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022.
Anna looking out the window in her friend's home. She left her home during the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022.© Elena Kalinichenko. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
"I also wanted to not just focus on the sadness, but also how strong she is," Kalinichenko said.
"I also wanted to not just focus on the sadness, but also how strong she is," Kalinichenko said.© Elena Kalinichenko. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

“When I chose this story to tell, I also wanted to not just focus on the sadness, but also how strong she is,” Kalinichenko told Euronews Culture. “The photos start with complete darkness but then she smiles, and you can see that she is happy even after such a tragedy. I hope people can feel this story, what it’s like to lose everything.”

Amsterdam-based neuroscience student Trâm Nguyen Quang chose to explore her childhood home for the project, focusing on the empty space left after her mother passed away.

Trâm Nguyen Quang's family altar in her childhood home.
Trâm Nguyen Quang's family altar in her childhood home.© Trâm Nguyen Quang. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
Trâm Nguyen Quang's brother in her family home in Amsterdam.
Trâm Nguyen Quang's brother in her family home in Amsterdam.© Trâm Nguyen Quang. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

“I realised there’s still a lot of story left there, and things we don’t really talk about,” she said. “At the end of the day I want the viewer to have some sensitivity and appreciation towards what they have at home right now with their loved ones. You never know how long it’s going to last.”

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For Nigerian artist Praise Hassan, life at home is about authenticity and emotion. Hassan spent time with her best friend Ife at her home, which for her is “a place to find peace of mind and rest.”

Ife with her family outside their home in Nigeria.
Ife with her family outside their home in Nigeria.© Praise Hassan. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.
Ife in her home in Nigeria.
Ife in her home in Nigeria.© Praise Hassan. From IKEA Mentorship Programme.

“I wanted to be able to just capture the raw part of living as it is,” Hassan said. “It's not always so beautiful, but it is ours, it is our story. It's what feels like home to us.”

The IKEA+ exhibition is open to the public from 29 February to 3 March at 28 rue de Lappe in Paris. Annie Leibovitz's photo series "Life At Home" can also be viewed virtually at IKEA's online showcase.

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