Recreating My Ancestors’ Daily Life In Romania – A Photographer’s Search For Cultural Identity

Gossiping with the Neighbors

 

Photographer Emily Matyas is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From her project ‘I Am My Ancestors‘. To see Emily’s portfolios click on any image.

 

Mother’s Favorite Rug

Mother’s Favorite Rug

 

Scolding Andrei

Scolding Andrei

 

In the fall of 2013 and again in 2015, I traveled to Romania to make pictures and explore my heritage. I had the opportunity to visit a small community near where my grandparents had lived. While there, I questioned what my family had lost upon immigrating to the U.S. and what they had gained. Certain family traditions, evident in the village, had not translated into American life. As I interacted with the people, it became clear that in order to understand the culture and my place in it, I needed to immerse myself completely into the scenarios before me.

 

Fetching Corn from the Barn

Fetching Corn from the Barn

 

I Am My Ancestors, combines various photographic styles, embracing reportage, self-portraiture, fictional narrative and family snapshots. It brings the viewer to Romania on a search for family history and cultural identity, while asking questions about the validity of tradition and the effects of immigration on subsequent generations. The scenes take place in real people’s homes, yards or fields, incorporating present-day situations with imagined realities.

 

Talking with Matusha,

Talking with Matusha

 

Splitting Wood with a Toy Axe

Splitting Wood with a Toy Axe

 

All my life I have been curious about the Romanian side of my family, but have had little information about it. My father’s early death, discrepancies in family stories, and a lack of documents, especially photographs, have limited my knowledge. And although I felt a distant kinship with the people I met there, I wandered how deeply I could actually become a part of the culture.  My lack of familiarity with their customs and the language was evident; I was of this place but not from it.

 

Morning in the “Beautiful Room"

Morning in the “Beautiful Room”

 

1)Adjusting a Haytack

Adjusting a Haytack

 

Ultimately, I hope these images express the desire, yet awkwardness of trying to connect with one’s ancestors. One may question whether or not this relation really matters. Still, I continue, along with countless other people, to search websites and ancestry blogs in hopes to discover more about my family background. Perhaps it is hardwired in humans to want to understand those who have gone before us; to know who they were, what made them laugh, what their work was like, the things they ate, what rituals were important to them. Perhaps it helps to satisfy that universal urge to find out where we come from.

 

Drying Vasile's Shirt

Drying Vasile’s Shirt

 

Weeding an Unfamiliar Grave

Weeding an Unfamiliar Grave

 

See also:

With Regards

By Emily Matyas

 


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