The less heard, the less obvious.

Vita Migrantis, the Ongoing Project by Oana Nechifor

In our new photo essay features, we ask photographers to discuss their work openly and honestly. From stories describing the starting points of powerful projects, to discussions about specific themes and topics within their work. These features are an open space for photographers to dictate the conversations around their images, or simply showcase strong narrative driven works from across the globe. In this photo essay Oana Nechifor tells us about an ongoing project that documents the Romanian migration phenomenon.

In the past 30 years, Romania has faced several dramatic social changes in the process of transitioning from Communism to democracy. According to official statistics, the Romanian diaspora is one of the largest growing diasporas in the world, with nearly 4 million Romanians spread mainly in almost all of the Western European countries and also in other places all over the world. The vast majority of Romanians deciding to leave the country are economic migrants in search of a better life.

So far, the project took the shape of three photobooks that document the lives of three Romanian families (which have emigrated to Spain, Germany and the UK). It explores the transformations that these families have faced regarding their sense of belonging to a community and to a country. It also evokes the way their sense of identity has changed throughout the migration process.

“vita migrantis” uses the language of photographic essay and combines the rhetoric of photojournalism with that of sociological case studies. It tries to enrich the theoretical framework as it adds the migrant’s point of view. My aim with this project is to provide an intimate, honest and empathic view of the Romanian migration, and to invite reflection and interiorization.

In my research, I have tried to investigate the economic migration phenomenon in Romania, with a focus on documenting people’s lives in their new countries. Inspired by the stories of the people I have met and the transitional economic and social context of Eastern European countries that still move towards democracy, my interest as a photographer grew into topics like (re)constructing identities and the narratives of belonging.

In my project, I propose a deepening of knowledge on the phenomenon of migration through documentary photography. The project aims at an interdisciplinary approach, taking over both notions and theories from sociological, anthropological and ethnographic studies. My research aims at acknowledging the totality of the migratory act, which begins first with emigration and only then ends with immigration. Migration changes both the internal structure of the person who is involved in this process and the dynamics related to the family from which he comes or the community from which he broke away.

Most of the family and many friends and colleagues have migrated to Western countries, thus the experience of migration has deeply affected my world view. While this phenomenon is popular and easily digested worldwide, I look upon the phenomenon of migration from the perspective of the one who remained home.

I set out to photographically document the daily lives of several Romanians in the European diaspora, focusing on their individual experience of migration, how that person has integrated (or not) in the country where they currently live, how their feelings of belonging have changed over time, whether they feel they belong to a country or a community and how they maintain their connection with their native country and culture. Therefore, my aim through this project was to better understand the individual experiences and feelings of the one who has to leave behind everything that is known to him and start all over in a new place, with a different culture and in a language in which one cannot express his deepest longings, no matter how well one manages to master it in time.

I am a photographer based in Iași, in north-east Romania. In my works, I approach topics like (re)constructed identities and the narratives of belonging in the context of migration, displacement and acculturation. I hold a BA and MA in Photography and video from National University of Arts “George Enescu” Iași, Romania, where I am now a doctoral candidate, with a practice-based research on photographic documentary practices regarding the Romanian economic migration. My work has been displayed in group exhibitions in Iași and Bucharest, Romania.

Being an introverted person, I have always found that it is easier for me to interact with people by having a camera in my hands. I have been using photography as a tool to connect with the people around me and to share my own vision of the world. Although I have studied photography as an art form in the academic institution, I have only recently begun to be interested in the documentary side of photography, finding that my main interest consists primarily in telling other people’s stories and emphatically connect with the person that is in front of the lens.