In 1998 my grandmother Isabella, who was born and lived in a small village on Mountain Aspromonte in Calabria, died at the age of 68. In the same year I was 13 and my family decided to move from the South of Italy to the North. As positive as I’ve always been about the changes both afterwards and while they were taking place, the following years were particularly complex for me.
Due to adolescence and a city that didn’t feel welcoming, I started to idealize my grandmother. In her I recognized my roots, all of my family and my homeland.
After almost twenty years since my relocation, I felt the need to find a way to restore the connection with my roots. At that time I was working on double exposure self portraits, but in a different way and with a different aim. When I found a box with old pictures of my family, I felt the urge to be inside those images.
I think that the main topic of this series is important for many people. Society is now less settled than it once was. People are born in a place, study in another and move around very easily. From big migrations due to wars and poverty, to the simple relocating of those who work and study all over the world, the common theme is that some pieces disperse. Ties with family and friends, with the community, with the flavors and colors of your own land – these are the things we give up for various reasons.
In some ways, the fact that I jumped from one place to another since I was a kid, cost me the right to be part of a community. The right to say, “I’m here because this is where my family and I come from, I belong to this place.” And I realize how this has affected my self-confidence.
Most of the time when I start a project I’m not aware of my aim. I don’t know why I’m doing what I do and what I’m searching for. I feel a force that pushes me to explore something inside me, as photography should be a tool for self analysis.
It often happens that the final purpose is clear only at the end, and also through the comments of those who look at my photographs and catch aspects that I did not see.
These photos are a way of claiming my identity. This is my family, this is the place I come from. Maybe because, somehow, knowing your roots and being recognized as belonging to a community is beneficial in terms of welcome and warmth. I think I needed to find what I lost in the previous years, acknowledging that this shortcoming is common to so many.
The image with my grandma holding my newborn mum made my mother cry for the first time since I became a photographer. I was surprised, but I realized how photography can be a tool to know and to recognize each other.
Photography is my way to understand who I am, where I come from, what is important to me. Most of the time it is self analysis. It is the only way to move on.
Sofia Uslenghi is an Italian photographer. Her series “My Grandmother and I” won third place in the Photo Series category in the Fall 2021 Awards. Find more of Sofia’s work on Instagram@sofia_uslenghi and on her website.