Dutch photographer captures love and friendship on streets of Islamabad  

Jeroen Swolfs has travelled to 195 countries to show the positive side of the world through his photos of street life

Hafsah Sarfraz March 22, 2017

Sometimes accidents give us more perspective than reading or travelling. That is exactly what happened with Jeroen Swolfs, a Dutch photographer who got drunk and fell on a pavement in Amsterdam almost a decade ago. As he stared at the pavement and streets around him, he felt a deep desire to see what street life is like in different cities around the world. That night Swolfs came home with a crazy idea to photograph street life in different capitals of the world; little did he know he would end up travelling to 195 countries in his pursuit.

Seven years ago, Swolfs embarked on his journey across the globe to show the positive side and developed a project titled “Streets of the World”. His idea was simple; he wanted to show the world as one; he wished to use his lens to show a brighter side focusing on the commonalities of the people instead of their differences.

Hailing from Amsterdam, Swolfs graduated from Utrecht University and the Amsterdam Photo Academy years ago. He worked as a photojournalist for Volkskrant newspaper and national museum Rijksmuseum, yet felt that his creative soul was unsatisfied and that is when “Streets of the World” began.

This past weekend, he visited Islamabad marking Pakistan as his 195th country to photograph. On his short two-day trip, The Express Tribune caught up him while he was in the field photographing street cricket in the capital.


Sharing his impression of the capital, Swolfs says Islamabad is unlike other capitals in Asia and is quite unique in its own special way. “Islamabad is very different. There is a lot of greenery here, its calm, peaceful and beautiful. The traffic is better as compared to other Asian capitals. It is actually a very nice setting with the mountains in the background and a blend of modern life with nature. I think it would be a great place to live, not just visit,” Swolfs says.

He admits Islamabad is actually very different from what he had perceived. “There is a harsh image of Pakistan in the west and it is actually quite an eye-opener to visit the country. I am not saying there aren’t any problems but there is a brighter side too. People are easy to approach, very friendly and hospitable and eager to share their stories and know why I’m here. It is beautiful here,” he says.

From reel to reality

Having travelled extensively to cover stories as a journalist, Swolfs says he noticed how the emphasis on the news was on the negative side but during his travels, he saw there was so much more going on as well. “Even in the places where there is war, there are so many other stories to be told about how people are helping each other and their strengths. I think the positive side may not be the only story but it is an important story to tell so I decided to make a project about the positive view of humanity and I chose street life in the centre of the capitals across the globe,” he shares.


Swolfs spends four to five days in each capital looking for the same themes of friendship, love, happiness; he wants to show how people are enjoying, playing and helping each other. His project is not about cities; it’s about the people.


Pakistan is one of the last few countries that Swolfs is visiting. He is almost about to end the project with only Libya, Yemen and Equatorial Guinea left. Due to this project, he has faced several challenges like visas, finances but the biggest challenge has been travelling alone for seven years. “Travelling alone is often romanticised and it may be great for a weekend but to be on your own for seven years is a big challenge. A part of me is happy that it’s ending,” he mentions.

The finances have been a hard part too as Swolfs had to spend a few years to find an investor. He has to pay back the money and is under massive debts now but a book is in the works and will be published soon.

Swolfs also shares that 80% of the time, he is travelling and is on the road which can be very hard at times.

When asked what has been the highlight of his travels, he laughs and says, "Pakistan". But on a deeper note, he shares the project has been an eye-opener. “I am still surprised about so many things and how the media subconsciously forms an image which is so different from the real picture. After travelling far and wide and working on this project, I am definitely more optimistic about the world we live in,” he says.

Swolfs firmly believes there are many similarities among different people which the media fails to focus on. “We are all the same at the end of the day, regardless of whether we originate from Africa, Europe or Asia,” he says.

A common thread

“Streets of the World” may be one project but it encapsulates so many stories revolving around basic emotions such as friendship, love and happiness. The project is a testament to the fact that we may be different people living across the globe but the way we feel emotions is the same. It highlights that people show affection in very similar ways regardless of where they live and originate.


This project has also covered deeper topics like the position of women in societies and climate change. “Through this project, I have figured that people across the globe may have different languages but their problems and stories are the same,” Swolfs says as we end our conversation.

His project “Streets of the World” will be published as a book and will be displayed at a photo exhibition which will travel through different cities in the world.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ