You are no stranger to waiting.
At the end of the month you wait for money to clear in your account.
You wait for the reply to the facebook message that was marked as seen.
On weekdays you wait for the weekend.
Since that party, you've waited for the person you connected with on the dance floor to show affection.
Currently you are waiting untill you have enough money in your account to make your next big trip.
Last week you refreshed your inbox as you waited for that website to confirm whether they'll publish your article or not.
Sometimes when you get tired of waiting and occupy yourself , you go out and buy a pair of socks or clean half the kitchen counter or sweep half the floor.
You are no stranger to waiting.
Suspension-the act of stopping or delaying something for a usually short period of time
I met Alvaro Deprit two months ago at the MACRO museum in Rome where he was showcasing his photo book suspension.
The book documents the lives of displaced teenagers who after migrating alone into Italy have to live in institutions called the “Casa Famiglia” (literal translation Family Home) until they turn 18, until they legally no longer require a guardian.
After a series of emails, texts and Facebook messages, Alvaro and I finally met at a small café in Monti, where we discussed the project, the concept of a “home” beyond borders and physical and psychological displacement.
Munyuthe: We met two months ago but we haven’t had a proper introduction. Tell me about yourself and how you got in to photography.
Alvaro: I have always been fascinated by the image and cinema in general. I love cinema but I didn’t study it because at that time in Spain it was not a viable future, it was also very expensive and the only place to study it was one private school in Madrid. So Instead, I chose to do german philology- the study of the german language, history and culture. When I finished this I studied sociology because I am a very curious person and like to know about the other in general. As for photography, when I was very young I started to take photographs only because I loved it, I didn’t think about it as a job. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that I started to think; I can try and do something with my photographic work, why not.
MM: Where did the project suspension come from, you could have taken pictures of anything, what drew your interest in the subject?
A: When I started the project I was not interested in something in particular, rather I was curious about immigration.
MM: How did you learn about the Casa Famiglia?
A: I have a friend who works in the Casa Famiglia, he is a tutor and he told me about this situation, about this reality. He told me about the living situation of these young teens who flee to Italy and have to live in the Casa Famiglia until they are adults. Initially I visited the place to speak with the guys and later on I started to photograph. In the beginning I don’t know what exactly to convey, but I knew there was something special to be shared.
I then began to photograph and after two years I tried to understand what was special about the situation. I looked at all my pictures and there was nothing there, nothing special. The pictures weren’t doing anything, I asked myself why? What is wrong? What do I have to photograph? These images don’t do anything. Later on I realized this was the key. They aren't doing anything because they are waiting. When I realized this I began to go deeper and further with this key, I began to ask myself why don’t they do anything, what is the psychological situation of these guys, where do they come from and why did they come here?
MM: That’s a very interesting process I really enjoy it. Can we talk about the Casa Famiglia as a building, what is it like?
A: Due to Italian law these houses have to be located within cities and villages, so they are normal houses in residential areas. They have tutors, whose work is to create a normal living situation that is static, yet has a rhythm of normal life. The teens that live there have to go to school, have to exercise, have to eat on the table with other people at the same time...well, this is the idea, but it is a very a cold place, it is synthetic; you can feel that there is something that doesn’t work well.
MM: So, was it one building or a series of buildings, do they have a school, a home……
A: No, it’s only a home. For school they have to go to the nearest school, there is a car that takes them to school and then brings them back.
MM: The next question is a bit long so bare with me. In the project what was of particular interest was the concept of 'a home beyond borders' as applied to the situation of the teenagers to talk a little a bit about this I am going to feed in a quote from Martin Heiddeger that goes, “...the truck driver is at home on the highway but he does not have his lodgings there, the working woman is at home at the spinning mill but she does not have her dwelling place there…” , meaning that, somebody can feel at home somewhere else even if they are not in the place they call home.
The reason I picked that quote is because in your project the photographs that I found really powerful were the ones that showed the teens feeling at home through the memory of an object, such as an old photograph. In these moments I think something important is happening, the boys are substituting the Casa Famiglia “home” with a personal object to represent home. What I would like to discuss, is the idea of home not being something physical but rather something psychological, the conceptual framework of “home”.
A: Uhmm… what can I say. They are young; they are very superficial in this age. They are just starting to think about the past and the situation of their lives. I think they don’t feel at home in these spaces because for them it is a just step, which is why they go for the object. When these guys migrate they usually take a small object from their personal home, like a photograph, or a special scarf. When they speak about their own culture and their own family they speak about these things.
MM: Can you give an example of a story of how one of the teens was using an object to relate it to their home?
A: Yes, on a birthday of one of these guys, (picks up book ) this is Arif from Afghanistan , on his birthday the Casa Famiglia made a party for him. He put on clothes that he took from Afghanistan- a white trouser, a kaftan and a scarf. He explained that these are the only clothes he took from home and they are normally worn during special moments. After he talked about his family and his relationships and then he showed some photos of his family.
M: That’s great. What I really like about this project is that it challenges the notion of home and makes us consider that the idea of “home” can differ from person to person...
A: But, not having a home for people who have to migrate is terrible. The interesting thing about the Casa Famiglia is, although they are not very sensitive they are very firm with their rules. I think this is very interesting because these teens need rules, they need structure. Even though it is not sensitive and emotional, it gives them a sense of routine. In fact I think it’s impossible to create a home from such a situation.
MM: Yes, it’s very difficult. What makes you feel at home?
A: For me it’s very interesting because I am an immigrant and I feel like a stranger in my hometown Madrid. Now I don’t think I have a home because when I go to Madrid I don’t feel at home-I have been away for too long. Here in Rome I feel like a stranger as well.
MM: I also feel like a stranger in Rome but, sometimes when I listen to a piece of music I don't feel displaced or when I do work that motivates me, I feel like I belong. For you, when do you get this feeling?
A: I think Spanish humour does this. In life everyone has his or her share of problems. The Spanish however prefer to live with a smile despite one's problems. In a way the Spanish people are very superficial but also very positive. So when I see some friends, some Spanish films or listen to some Spanish songs I feel the same symptom.
MM: In this age where people are becoming more exposed to migration, to opportunities in other lands, as more and more people start to cross borders. What do you think is the future of places like the Casa Famiglia?
A: This world is crazy, I don’t know exactly where we are going to go, I think the people in Spain and Italy in general are very sensitive about children and I hope the future will be different, but I don’t know what will be the future of the Casa Famiglia.
MM: “life has been thrown on to the world, it expresses the original violence done to me making me where I am and what I am…. emerging in to an existing world which I did not make and whose law I did not chose.” You used this quote in your project statement can we talk about it?
A: Yes, I think people don’t reflect about this, that exiting is a human condition that no one choses, and it is interesting to know and understand how the other exists, in this case the migrant is the other. This sentence is like a résumé of all my projects.
MM: Thinking of the complexity of your work, I think it would be simplistic to say you were only trying to raise awareness. I think this project achieves more than that….
A: In this project yes I want to speak about the situation of these kids-they are born in a country where I don’t know why there is a war, they have to leave, and the police pick them up and tell them you have to stay here in this Casa Famiglia, they don’t decide. But I am also speaking about a bigger idea, a philosophical concept. For me this project is like a key to the situation of all the people in this world, it is a philosophical concept.
All images courtesy of Alvaro Deprit.