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Friday, 4 September 2020

Picking Tomatoes and listening to the radio - Silvia Rosi as her father and mother



      Self -portrait as my father

        All pictures copyright Silvia Rosi. Originally commissioned through Jerwood/Photoworks awards   2020

I love these images by Silvia Rosi, made as a homage and connection point to both her mother and the studio portraiture of Togo. They look fantastic, but at the same time there's something very direct in them and very personal in them that takes them above the two-dimensional, that crosses time and connects to who her mother and father are, how they connect, how they function in the world, how they struggled to survive in Italy. 

These are the introductions she gives to her parents on her website. They serve as captions to the images, and are something to behold in their simplicity and directness. 

Father: He was an educated man from a good Togolaise family. He arrived in Italy with a few clothes, some books and the dream of finding a good job. A few weeks later he was picking up tomatoes in a field for a few cents a box. 

Mother: She arrived in Rome in 1989 to reunite with her lover and found a job straight away as a babysitter for a family. One day while she was cleaning their living room, she heard on the radio that they were going to pass a law that would legalise every migrant in Italy. She was glad she listened to the radio that day. 

I asked her a few questions and here are her answers.

When did you decide to make this project connecting to your mother?

 I wanted to shoot a project around trade and women head carriers in the market of Assigame in Lomè. I took my first field trip to Lomè, where I immersed myself in the streets of the market, following the paths of traders in their daily struggle to secure income. Only then I started to associate their experience to my mother’s who worked in that same market as a young woman, and her mother before her.

A picture from the family album portrayed my young mother selling make up in Assigame. It’s one of those rare images which are not taken at the photographer’s studio. This picture was to me a window into my mother’s life immediately before migration, and from that I build the structure for my project. 


     Self-portrait as my mother


What role did photography play in your mother's families life in Togo?

 When my mother lived in Togo her family didn’t own a camera, so she would go to the photographer studio on Sundays after church to have her portrait taken. Photography was a collective experience and that’s how I think she perceived it. As an occasion to get together.

What changed or stayed the same when she moved to Italy?

When she moved to Italy disposable cameras where more accessible and she and my dad would document their lives. Back in Togo photography was a collective celebration, while during migration it became more like a record of experiences, an affirmation of the self in the uncertainty of the migratory journey.



     Self-portrait as my mother on the phone

What are you seeking to replicate in your images?

 In my images I hope to replicate the feeling of familiarity that many people that share my same history feel when looking at similar images the family album. But I also want to create a sense of discomfort which is not always present in family images but it is in the human experience of the family. 



    Self-portrait as my father on the phone

Has the making of the images affected your understanding of your mother's experiences?

 I don’t think the making of the images was revelatory as  much as the actual conversations with my mother where she was openly sharing her past with me.  The images are just the result of that confrontation.


     Self-portrait as my mother in school uniform

Will you continue this project? 

For sure, I see it as an ongoing project


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