Emigration has influenced the evolution of many Galician families during a substantial part of the 20th century, especially in the years following the Spanish Civil War: Latin America and many European countries hosted thousands of Galician people. Entire families departed from the ports of Vigo and La Coruña in the hope of a better future in distant lands.
I was born in Venezuela, and I am the son of migrant parents; but my parents returned to Spain when I was 5 or 6 years old, so I have very few memories of the country where I was born. This situation has always makes me experience a kind of national disconnection: since I left Venezuela at a very early age, I have no emotional bonds with my country of birth; And on the other hand, until my early thirties, although I was living in Spain, I was still a legally Venezuelan citizen, which placed me in a peculiar situation of national identity throughout my childhood and youth.
This is why I’m so interested in the matter of national identity, and in this project I want to explore how people who live or have lived situations of distancing from their places of origin, kept ties alive with their roots and cultural identities.
Nowadays, emigration -at least the one related to business or labour motivations- is considered a relatively normal phenomenon in terms of globalization, but the migratory movements that occurred massively in Galicia during the first half of last century, have imprinted a nostalgic and painful image of emigration in the collective imagination, as it was masterfully depicted by the Spanish photographer Manuel Ferrol in his series “Emigration. Port of La Coruña 1957” or to which Rosalía Castro gave her own voice in her well-known poem included in the book “Cantares Gallegos” (1863), that in the words of Francisco Rico “inaugurates a fundamental stage of Galician literature: the nostalgia of the emigrant to their land” (Rico et al., 1991)
Adiós ríos, adiós fontes
Adiós ríos, adiós fontes
Miña terra, miña terra,
Prados, ríos, arboredas,
Muiño dos castañares,
Amoriñas das silveiras
¡Adiós, gloria! ¡Adiós, contento!
Deixo amigos por extraños,
Adiós, adiós, que me vou,
Xa se oien lonxe, moi lonxe,
¡Adiós tamén, queridiña…
Non me olvides, queridiña,
Goodbye rivers, goodbye springs
Goodbye, rivers, goodbye, springs,
Oh my home, my homeland,
Meadows, rivers, woodlands,
Mill nestled between the chestnuts,
Blackberries from the wild vines
Goodbye, glory! Goodbye, gladness!
I’m leaving friends for strangers,
Goodbye, goodbye, I’m going,
Far off I hear them, far away,
Goodbye too, my beloved…
Don’t forget me, home beloved,
Cantares Gallegos (1863)
That is why I focused my first researches on this feeling of nostalgia, that feeling that distance stimulates and that in the words of Isaura Bohórquez “activates the consciousness of what is no longer available to the senses.” In her essay on nostalgia in immigration, the author concludes that nostalgia:
“serves as an encouragement and a stop on the way to continue, which acts as a source of inspiration to contrast loneliness […] the role it plays in the immigrant’s life is fundamental, because it transports him to a past that gives him back attitudes as that of being an entrepreneur, oxygenates his longings, his desire to go on living, enhances his pride, and allows him to rescue his strengths, optimism and confidence that took him one day to risk the safety of the known to search for a better world.” (Bohórquez, 2011)
According to the author, the emigrant keeps alive his national identity and personal history through the symbolic representation in which these affections and memories will remain present but integrated in the new reality, recovered through the mediation of the feeling of nostalgia; The evocation of places, people, events, costumes, music or the language itself is a fundamental element which helps the emigrant to build the narrative of his nostalgia.
A good example of this symbolic connection is the well-known Galician popular song, “La Rianxeira”, composed in Buenos Aires in 1947 by two Galician emigrants, Anxo Romero and Xesus Frierio “Pinziñas”, which quickly became the vehicle through which many Galician emigrants kept alive the emotional bond with Galicia.
Recording made in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1950
Based on these reflections and my own experience, I have proposed the “Mirrors and Windows” project, in which invited to participate to people who are living or have lived a situation of estrangement from their country of origin, or who have somehow experienced some identity issue because of their nationality.
In the initial terms in which I drafted the project, each participant had to define an element that literally or symbolically represents their national identity. Something that resonates inside them in a special way and that somehow reminds them of their origin. This may require some time for personal reflection, considering and evaluating different possibilities, and supporting with a small sentence or argument the final choice to present it and, thus, contextualize it in the project.
The development of the project is explained in the communiqué with which I informed the people who decided to participate:
- Individual interview with each person to know their place of origin, their motivations to emigrate, their perception of the process of integration and reception in the country of destination, etc. In this first moment, the person is proposed to reflect a few days about it, and he is invited to propose how he maintains the symbolic connection with his country of origin. It is also important to identify the intensity that this feeling has in each person.This representation may have many forms: it may be something tangible or visible, such as a landscape, a way of dressing, some object or memory that the person preserves, a book, an old photograph, or some abstract concept that does not have an immediate visual representation: a scent, a gesture, a word, a memory of the past, etc.
- Each person who participates in the project must communicate their choice, and I will discuss with the person how they can visually represent their choice in a photograph. It is important that each election is accompanied by a brief text that justifies or contextualises the chosen image, and that it may be in the native language to amplify the intensity of the link of the symbol with the origin of the person. This text will complement the photograph, and it is proposed to the person to recite it during the photographic session. An enlargement in A3 format of the photograph that symbolizes his identity will be done.
- Produce a portrait of the person posing with the photograph representing their national identity. The pose of the subject and his relationship with photography will depend on the strength and intensity with which this relationship lives. For the photo session, people will be summoned in a photo studio on March 19, 2017. During the photo shoot, a video will be recorded where the person recites the text that accompanies the photograph.
Although the terms in which I defined the project initially might have drawn a person profile closely connected to their home country by a nostalgic link, after the first interviews I noticed the difficulty of some people to choose a unique and absolute representation of their identity , and that the issue had to be addressed with a broader approach, open to incorporate any means of representation that could symbolize richer and more complex feelings of identity.
Below are the portraits, the title of the photograph is just the name of the person and his country of birth, and each photograph is accompanied by a brief information based on my notes that helps to contextualize the choice of each participant.
Mónica has chosen a typical Brazilian musical instrument called “casaca” to represent her identity. In the personal interview, she explained the reasons for her choice, but later she sent me a beautiful text where she reflects on it in depth:
“The casaca is important for me because beyond its musical representation it touches on a very serious theme in Brazilian culture – blackness. It is incredible that a multiracial country such as Brazil (a country initially colonized by the Portuguese and originally influenced by several European and African cultures) has such level of racial prejudices. I am black, and when you talk about being black you do not talk about the colour of your skin, you talk about race, the black race. Although I do not have the color I would like to have (dark black), I am satisfied with my “pale blackness” and I am proud to belong to the black race. It is an instrument that reminds me of my roots, my culture and a beautiful and joyful musicality that has the “congo”. Seeing and touching it is as if my identity was always present, regardless of where I stay.”
For the portrait of Monica I used two photographs, one where the complete instrument is seen, and the chosen one, which is a detail of the instrument where the theme of the race is emphasized, which in my opinion is an aspect that deeply models the identity of a person, and it was an aspect that Monica highlighted during the personal interview.
In another paragraph of Monica’s commentary, she points out how the experience of emigration changes the person’s gaze, turning it into a more open and tolerant one, which awakens us from the self-absorbed contemplation of ourselves and allows us to observe with a new look through the other’s window.
The biography of Anna is influenced by a dual identity, from a Spanish mother and a German father, her childhood and youth pivoted between Germany and Spain.
Although this duality has not been traumatic, it has been present in a paradoxical way throughout her life; because while in Germany they called her “The Spanish girl” when she came to Spain she was known as “The German girl”.
The photo that Anna chose to pose with has necessarily to depict this double identity that connects her with the two beloved places: On the right picture, she is posing next to the Wall of Berlin, days after the fall of the wall. Her family resided in the vicinity, and the event was lived with great emotional intensity by Anna. On the left, a photograph of Anna in her childhood on which she is riding a motorbike during her summer vacation in Covas (Spain). The affective bond with Spain was reinforced by that feeling of joy and freedom (motorcycle) that she experienced on her vacation in Spain, and which perhaps offered a counterpoint to a more formal and restrictive German reality (wall). The photographs chosen perfectly represent both contrasting realities.
Anna’s choice points out another determining aspect of identity: childhood and adolescence, and according to Professor Martyn Berrett’s study about the development of national identity in childhood and adolescence “is when the most positive affects are expressed towards the national group above any other reference group” (Barrett, 2000).
The case of Jonny is an example of a complex identity, since his family trajectory has taken him across many countries during his childhood and youth. From an English father and a German mother, he has lived in different countries: England, Germany, India, Switzerland, etc. Therefore, the sense of national affiliation to a specific country is very weak.
The object he has chosen for the portrait is a photograph of his old guitar, which has been present during all the episodes of his journey and that somehow operates as a thread of the narrative of his biography. In the personal interview, he told me that it is a guitar without much economic value, but his emotional bond with it is very intense.
Above all musical instruments, the guitar perfectly represents the concept of ubiquity: in the street played by a street musician, in the backpack of a hiker or a pilgrim, heartening the improvised gatherings or in the concert venue … Jonny’s guitar is not representing here any kind of national music, but a trajectory that points the way through the different countries in which he has lived, and that are given to his identity a ubiquity similar to the one that the guitar has.
In the picture, Jonny poses with the guitar in a similar position to the one he would adopt with a real instrument, which emphasizes the coherence of his choice.
The question of Isolde’s identity is perfectly reflected in Amin Maalouf’s commentary in his book “On Identity” where he reflects on the question of identity in terms of affiliation:
“Every individual without exception posseses a composite identity. He need only ask himself a few questions to uncover forgotten divergences and unsuspected ramifications, and see that he is complex, unique and irreplaceable” (Maalouf, p.17)
From the first interview, she told me about her difficulty to represent in a unique and exclusive way the rich nuances of her identity, marked by her stay in different countries. From a German mother and a canary father, daughter of emigrants in Venezuela, she returned to Germany in her childhood, where she keeps fond memories of the Black Forest. The rest of her biography is influenced by a continuous itinerary through different countries and cities: Bolivia, South Africa, Jerusalem … Subsequently, the photo she chooses as a symbol, is a graphic collage, built around an old family photo where the family appears doing a stop on the road, with a Seat 600 loaded with suitcases. Isolde refers to this photograph as the “nomads of the 600” and believes that it perfectly represents well her life trajectory.
A great question mark dominates the image, representing the difficulty we have to answer in a simple and absolute way to the identity question. Small phrases, annotations, single words written in Spanish, German or English and the first stanza of Venezuelan song “Alma Llanera” aim to complete the framework that is Isolde’s identity. Isolde’s intervention in the project points out to another of the key aspects of our identity: language.
The artists Karolis (composer) and Kristina (illustrator) are a perfect example of the affective aspect of the identity that Martyn Barrett mentions in his essay when he reflects on the evaluation that of the identity make some people, granting it a relative importance within their scale of values:
“Thus, some people may feel that they would never surrender their national identity under any circunstances whatsoever; other people feel that they could easily emigrate to another country and quite happily change their national allegiance.” (Barrett, 2000)
In the conversation I had with Karolis, he told me that after 17 years of living in Spain he did not feel as an immigrant, and that his relationship with the country of origin was not defined in terms of nostalgia or longing. Lithuanian is the communication vehicle of the couple, but they maintain an open attitude to learn new languages that broaden their human and artistic horizon. The image chosen by Karolis and Kristina could not better illustrate that spirit of universality they both claim to feel: it is an illustration by Kristina entitled “The Last Man of Fukushima” based on the actual story of Matsumura Naoto who returned to the nuclear exclusion zone to take care of the abandoned animals that had died otherwise. The story of this modern Noah, with a sense of universal mission, gathering together a multitude of diverse animals around him, seems to me a beautiful metaphor of that sense of open identity that Karolis and Kristina keep an identity that without being intoxicated by nationalisms expands its horizon ever further.
In the year 2015, Karolis presented his work “The Last Man of Fukishima”, which compiles 10 years of composition and illustrates, through the use of several musical styles, the integrative sense that these young artist have about the concept of identity.
The biography of Marisol brings her from Argentina and places her in the Basque Country in her childhood, and although nothing remains in her accent that gives us a clue about her place of birth, during her childhood and adolescence she lived with strangeness the question of an identity that makes her feel slightly different from other children of the school, without reaching to comprehend why nobody understands the Argentinian word “ojotas” with which she refers to the flip-flops.
She lived in Portugal for eight years, a country with which she has a close affective bond and that is evident in the image she chose for the project. In order to emphasize the episodic character of her identity, Marisol has chosen a series of words to compose a road map through which her identity seems to run, and which are arranged on the sheet of paper as a contemporary poem, giving her identity a sense of movement. The sheet remains in the typewriter, and some ellipses scattered on the page suggest that her identity is a dynamic and alive process, that she keeps writing…
The prose poem by Javier Lostalé “La Estación Azul” reflects that desire of getting rid of the bonds against which the identity of the restless spirit rebels:
“Basta sólo con que nos olvidemos del espejo en el que multiplicamos el rostro de nuestros deseos y triunfos y salgamos al encuentro en los demás [..] Basta con que olvidemos nuestro nombre en el bautismo universal de la luz del amanecer para que, abrazados, arribemos todos a la estación azul. Allí, cada palabra trasparece grávida de aliento común, de modo que si alguien dice “ciudad”, un coro de voces se hunde en sus propias habitaciones iluminadas mientras el sueño despliega sus mapas” (Lostalé and Siles, 2004)
“It is enough that we forget the mirror in which we multiply the face of our desires and triumphs and meet the others […] It is enough that we forget our name in the universal baptism of the light of the dawn so that, embraced, let’s all get to the blue station. There, each word transcends pregnant with common breath, so that if someone says “city”, a chorus of voices sinks into their own enlightened rooms while the dream unfolds their maps”
And as if she wanted to be close to the ground, close to the surface of the Iberian Peninsula where she is writing her story, Marisol proposes to pose sitting on the floor.
The identity of Luisi is a tale of comings and goings, a story of estrangements and gatherings, of denials and affirmations, a story full of nuances and colours, ranging from the black of an old grand piano, to the red of the spilled blood by an identity dispute. The story that Luisi begins to write in a mirror that suddenly shatters and allows her to peer into a window through which she contemplates and becomes aware of the identity conflicts that other Latina immigrant mothers like her are living in Spain. The story of Luisi is a story with a happy ending.
Luisi has chosen an Andean Drum to represent the connection with her national identity. The bass and low vibration of the bass drum vibrates inside her as the force transmitted through space and time from her beloved Andean homeland. For the session, she got dressed in the typical Andean costume and has performed a dance to the rhythm of the famous song “El Condor Pasa” by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomía Robles in the version of Simon and Garfunkel. Luisi’s performance was so intense that it captivated all of us who were at that moment in the study.
I think that Luisi’s choice represents very clearly the concept of identity related to the land and traditions of the country of origin, which as Isaura Bohórquez said in her study “distance and time tend to amplify”.
When in the first telephone contact I explained to the Cuban actress Orisel what was the project about, and she immediately replied that the symbolic connection with her country was through the gesture I did not fully understand what she was referring to. When I later researched on her biography and discovered some photographs of the theatrical performance of the play “Hijo del Alma” (Son of the Soul) in 1993 and, without knowing the details about the story, I was struck by the visual force that the actress transmitted through the gesture.
During the personal interview, we agreed that this image would be the perfect representation of her sense of national identity. Remembering the play Orisel explains:
“Those white boxes that appear on the scene, the only scenographic element on a red carpet, were designed for the show of that shocking parade of coffins and ossuaries with the mortal remains of the Cubans who had fallen on internationalist missions in African countries, one day before my eyes, made to cry the streets of Santa Clara shaking us with pain. “Hijo del Alma”, borrowed its name from the homonym poem by José Martí … and this fragment of the poem, converted into a song, was part of the text: “Ellos tienen tu sombra;/¡Yo tengo tu alma!/Ésas son cosas nuevas,/Mías y extrañas. (They have your shadow/I have your soul!/Those are new things,/Mine and strange)”
How is the color of the light of your homeland represented? Or the smell of the wet soil when it rains in the yard of the house where you were born? How do you tell the story of that play that thrilled you and made the public vibrate years ago?
I think the choice of Orisel has to do with the history that also permeates our identity, a history to which we are linked by the thin line of memory. In the photograph, Orisel recreates a new gesture, which is different from that original gesture of the photo that she gently suspends, but shares with the original gesture a similar shape formed by angles and edges; a new gesture joined subtly through the distance and time to that gesture which made cry to the mothers of the young soldiers of the history killed in Angola.
|Ahora podría decir todo,
lo que pienso,
lo que nunca
me dejaron saber: fui niño
crecí despacio y solo, iba
aprendiendo a callar,
me asomaba a la vida,
puse mi libertad encima
de mis años.
y no terminaría nunca. No
terminaría nunca.Now I could say everything,
what I think,
Let me know: I was a kid
I grew up slowly and alone, I was going
learning to be silent,
I looked at life,
I put my freedom on top
of my years.
I could talk
and would never end. I would
Jose Manuel Caballero Bonald
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
This project is the result of more than one month and a half of planning, negotiation and organization. The two-hour photo session is the corollary of all previous work.
I consider that, although the project is conceived at a small-scale, it introduces basic aspects that should be taken into account when planning a long-term project: previous planning, developing ideas through research, project promotion, negotiation, evaluation and modification of planning, tasks of pre-production and coordination, production and final edition of the project.
With the exception of Karolis (Lithuania) who is an old acquaintance of my family, all the people involved in this project were unknown persons. The process of selecting these people was quite laborious: I had interviews with several of my acquaintances to explain them the project, who later introduced me to some people who fit the requirements.
I have also posted ads and news through Facebook pages of groups of foreigners. The answer has been rather cold or non-existent in many cases. What has worked best is the personal reference, which, although slowly, has guaranteed some participation. Although the final number of participants matches my initial approximations (7-8), I think that such a project deserves to have a larger sample of people, and to have more time to execute it. However, as the purpose is academic, I consider that the sample of people involved perfectly illustrates the methods of approaching to a serious theme and subsequent development that a professional photographer must take into account.
The starting point of this project was the idea of exercise 3.2 of the module that invited to reflect on personal identity. From that self-portrait that I included in the exercise and that is reworked in this assignment as a final picture, I worked out this new project, which meets the requirements of approaching to a group as an insider and document it. In this case, it is not a specific group, with a specific activity, it is rather a social group, without any kind of cohesion between individuals, with which I have built a typology that aims to reveal the shared concern that some people feel about their own identity.
The complexity of the project required a small team that was in charge during the photo session of some tasks of production and organization, as well as the video recording of the entire session. For my self-portrait, I was lucky enough to have the collaboration of the professional photographer Antonio Gutiérrez.
Quality of outcome
I find the result very satisfactory and coherent from a visual and content point of view. Given the limited time available, the people involved in the project illustrate some key aspects of identity:
- Race (Mónica)
- Tradition (Luisi)
- Ubiquity (Jonny)
- Childhood (Anna)
- Language (Isolde)
- Evolution (Marisol)
- History (Orisel)
- Universality (Karolis/Kristina)
- Conflict (Blas)
In the initial draft of the project, I proposed the possibility of developing the photo session in a negotiated location with each person, but finally I decided to do it on the studio in order to focus the visual attention of the viewer on the two elements that interact in the scene: the person and the visual representation of his identity.
I did not want to present the question of identity under a negative or very dramatic prism, so I felt that the subjects could smile if they wanted to, which gives the project a kinder character. The cases where the subject does not smile (Orisel, Luisi, and self-portrait) have a more transcendent meaning, and perhaps they operate as a counterpoint to the relaxed character of the whole series. Nevertheless, in the process of selection, I have placed towards the end the portraits with more serious and concentrated faces, so that the series is progressing in intensity.
As I said before, I believe that the number of participants is adequate for an academic project, but I believe that the absence of some representative of some group of marginalized emigrants or representing other ethnic groups is noticeable, although I have to admit the difficulty of accessing these groups of people in such a small space of time. I am afraid that the project presents only the kindest aspect of emigration, although I am convinced that a more openness criteria of selection of subjects would radically change the orientation and meaning of the project.
During the negotiation process I had to redefine the terms of participation in the project. One requirement was that participants should record a video clip explaining briefly their choice. This seemed to cause some anxiety to the majority of the participants, so I decided to leave it optional.
Demonstration of creativity
Window or mirror? As the starting point of the project is a question of my own identity, it is logical to consider that it fits more with the concept of mirror, in which I reflect on aspects that have influenced my own experience, however, dealing with people totally unknown to me, from very different backgrounds has allowed me to open a window through which I have discovered a reality that makes my problems of identity seem insignificant.
The project revisited some of the ideas I have used in previous projects, for example, the concept of the subject holding the photograph is taken from an earlier exercise that I developed for the “Family Portraiture Archive” and the idea of including my own physical photographs on the scene as a way of exploring the matter of the materiality of photography was used in the assignment five of Context and Narrative.
And although it is not something that I have taken specifically from the assignment two of Identity and Place (Viceversa), I consider that the ability of an object to model the subject’s posture is also present in this work.
In its theoretical conception, I consider the work is well founded and a further professional development of the subject could be justified. Regarding the use of this assignment in an exhibition or photobook, although the images may be visually attractive on their own, and some of them even may work alone perfectly, some may require the support of the text to contextualize them correctly.
To mention as visual references during the research phase prior to the development of the project, the work of the American photographer Tim Mantoani “Behind Photographs” and “Fake Fake Art” by the German artist Andreas Schimidt:
Brais Gonzalez (Video)
Antonio Gutiérrez (Photography)
Erea Carbajales (production coordinator)
Andrea González (production assistant)
The photo session took place on Sunday, March 19, 2017 in DINAMOCoworking’s main studio.
Manuelferrol.com. (2017). Manuel Ferrol. [online] Available at: http://www.manuelferrol.com/ [Accessed 18 Mar. 2017].
Rosalia.gal. (2017). “Adiós ríos” ao inglés – Fundación Rosalía de Castro. [online] Available at: http://rosalia.gal/planeta-rosalia/adios-rios-ao-ingles/ [Accessed 18 Mar. 2017].
Bohórquez, Isaura. (2011). Reflexiones sobre la nostalgia en la inmigración. [online] Available at: http://www.aperturas.org/articulos.php?id=680&a=Reflexiones-sobre-la-nostalgia-en-la-inmigracion [Accessed 18 Mar. 2017].
Rico, F., Micó, J., Requena Marco, M., Serés, G. and Rodríguez, J. (1991). La Poesía española. 1st ed. Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores.
Barrett, M (20100). The development of national identity in childhood and adolescence. – Surrey Research Insight Open Access. [online] Available at: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/1642/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Maalouf, A. and Bray, B. (2007). On Identity. 1st ed. London: The Harvill Press.
Lostalé, J. and Siles, J. (2004). La estación azul. 1st ed. Madrid: Calambur.
Shore, R. (2015). Post-Photography. 1st ed. London: Laurence King.