People often say we don’t choose our family. And there are those who believe we choose precisely the family we need, from some other dimension. Regardless of choice, or how a family comes to be what it is, few would deny the significance of family in our lives. The weight of it, sometimes a burden to be carried on our backs, sometimes a heaviness in our hearts, is always there, accumulating throughout a lifetime. Perhaps more than one.
The story of any one family holds more than what can be remembered individually. It’s made up of our ancestry, our unconscious memories, every moment of our apparently ordinary present, dreams and hopes we cultivate for those we leave behind: the ones who will continue the story, never knowing where it began or where it will end. I find my own beginning with my grandmother Imponina. It’s an unusual name. I always thought it came from the Portuguese word imponente: imposing. She was a sweet soul, whom Life tried, but failed, to embitter. She imposedher happiness upon it, despite the difficult hand she was dealt.
In the course of her life, and a long, happy marriage, she became the head of an enormous but united family. She showered us—first her daughters, then her sons-in-law, and finally her many grandchildren—with unconditional love. In a small, simple home, I knew a happy childhood and was content despite the humble circumstances of our lives. That time, that place, those circumstances have shaped my life and the person I’ve become.
Like so many families today, ours is no longer united under one roof, or even one city. People move away, fall out of each other’s lives, follow their own dreams, create their own families. My grandfather has recently died, but Imponina wants to remain in the family home, even though she will be alone there now. Some of us visit her, but the days of the family gathering as one are gone. The house is only home to my grandmother now, but it still holds countless memories of a family.
In order to keep telling our story, long after we’re gone, I embarked on a project with my grandmother, to document the house, and the two of us, using only a tripod and my camera. I’ve promised Imponina to safeguard these photos, along with other mementos—postcards and letters gathered over a lifetime—kept in a box to preserve the pieces she has held of our family’s collective memory.
I am not sure about this photography project’s name, but so far I like to call it “a journey back in time”.