What is the story behind your winning photo series?
This series is about Mariana, my grandmother. She is now 88 years old and has lived alone for the past 30 years (since my grandfather died) in a small village in the interior of Portugal. Five years ago she had a very serious health problem during the night. She was found the next day at home with sepsis and was rushed to the hospital. After three surgeries in two days, three weeks in a coma and three months in hospital, she recovered her mobility and wanted to go back to living in her house.
No one believed that she would be able to live alone again, because of the colostomy she underwent. Against all expectations she recovered and returned to her home, where she remains until now.
When the pandemic started, one of our biggest concerns as a family was the isolation that was imposed and that she would have to live it alone.
Unable to read or write, she passed the test of resilience with flying colours. She stayed in her house, alone, during the confinements.
Her days were the same as always, filled with her routines, missing more her family (with whom, during this pandemic period, she only spoke on the phone or via distance), but with the tranquility and peace that only her home gives her.
That’s what I tried to capture in this series, the loneliness and sadness inherent in it, but also the resignation and pacification with this isolation that started out as my grandmother’s choice and became to be an imposition in recent years.
What was your experience while making this series and what challenges did you face during the process?
To photograph this series I spent a few days at my grandmother’s house, followed her day and night and recorded all the moments of her routine. Some of the biggest challenges I felt were undoubtedly linked to the pandemic situation we were experiencing and the care and distance I had to maintain. But without a doubt, the biggest difficulty was related to the intimacy and deep connection I have with the subject of this series. It was an extremely difficult and emotional experience to photograph my grandmother, due to the strong emotional charge it entailed. Although we are respecting her wish to be living in her house, instead of being at her daughter’s house or in a home for the elderly, even knowing that this is where she is happy and wants to be, it is still difficult for me as a granddaughter to deal with her loneliness and accept that she is alone at 88. The moments when we leave her home are always emotional with a lot going on in our minds, thinking about all the dangers she can be exposed to and double thinking about if we are actually doing the right thing leaving her there (even knowing that this is her will).
What meaning does this series hold for you and for the subjects of the story?
For me, doing this work was really important. During the process I interviewed her and I managed to better understand her desire. She told me stories about her past and I understood why it was so important for her to stay in that house, the house where she was happy most of her life, how it makes sense to her that this is where she wants her days to end. The relation she has to that place, her home, her place, is irreplaceable, and nothing makes her more happy than being there.
I also wanted to praise this woman whose resilience and will to live surprised everyone and everything, an inspiration that defied all medical perspectives. This work is about her life, her day, about getting older and the passage of time, her intimacy, her will and her loneliness. But, at the same time, I think it’s actually about me and my concerns and worries about the passage of time, and about all of us, about how we deal with getting old and solitude. About our fears. Above all, as I said in the beginning, this series is about my grandmother, Mariana.
How is photography important to you?
At the moment, photography occupies a huge place in my life. When I’m not photographing, I’m watching photography, trying to improve and learn more. Lately I even dream about photography! One of the most important things photography brought me was the possibility of meeting new people and telling their stories, connecting with them in a totally different way. For example, in these days when I did this work with my grandmother, in some moments she seemed like a new person to me. It’s strange, but it’s because I had never been with her like that, in that way. I think photography makes us be there, be present and relate and connect us with people and their stories in a unique way, and that’s what I love more about it.
Magda Pinto is a Portuguese photographer. Her series “Mariana” won 1st place in the Photo Series category in the Spring 2021 Awards. Find more of Magda’s work on Instagram@magdarodriguespinto and on her website.