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Honour your father and your mother

In conversation with Fabiana Sala

I’m an Italian photographer and graphic designer. I studied visual communication in Switzerland and after graduating, decided to move to Boston to pursue my career in photography. The following year I got accepted to the International Centre of Photography in New York and I started the Documentary and Photojournalism program there. I lived there for four years. In 2018, I moved here to Berlin where I’m currently living and working as a photographer and photo editor.

My photography focuses on the relationships and connections between human beings. I’m particularly interested in body language, both in childhood and adulthood, and how this is related to personality. My choice of subjects comes from my interest and ideas surrounding love and emotional kinship.

Tell us about your journey to photography.

My passion for photography began in my second year of university where I participated in a documentary photography class and absolutely fell in love with the medium.

The decision to move my attention from graphic design to photography happened while I was working on a project with my thesis tutor, Alberto Bianda. His studio collaborates with the Magnum photographer Ferdinando Scianna and that year I had the privilege to collaborate on the design of his book Visti & Scritti. Looking at Scianna’s images made me realise how much potential, power, and charm could be conveyed just within a single frame. Seeing the story come alive, page after page, gave me the inspiration and motivation to make my decision to focus more on documentary photography. After completing my work on Scianna’s book, I quickly decided that I would move to the United States to pursue photographic studies.

What kind of photography are you interested in?

I’m really intrigued by documentary practice. I love to tell stories, embrace emotion and represent feelings. I’ve always struggled with words, especially when I have to use them to describe how I feel, how I’d like to feel, what my desires are… Then I found photography and suddenly everything became much easier. I realised that I could use it as a tool to convey my own feelings and emotions, and eventually, to try to show others how I see the world and the things around me.

Let’s talk about Honour Your Father and Your Mother.

Honour Your Father and Your Mother is a project that explores Alzheimer’s disease through the personal struggles of my grandmother, Maria, who I grew up with. She’s one of the most powerful and determined people I’ve ever met. An example to follow, someone to admire, and someone to learn from day by day.

Alzheimer’s has transformed her completely and, among other things, she now has no sense of time.

She can remember events from decades ago and yet she forgets what she has eaten the night before. No longer able to perceive the world around her clearly and distinctly, her perception of time has been thrown into a sort of limbo where nothing remains the same, and chronologically her memories are misplaced.

My mother, Lucia, has dedicated every day of her life to Maria for over seven years now. A mother and daughter relationship that has seemingly reversed itself, my mother devoting herself to my grandmother; she is pure and totally unselfish with her love. Dedicating your life to caring for someone day after day, hour after hour is a complicated and taxing dynamic which I’ve observed with a mixture of perplexity and admiration.

What was your motivation behind making the work?

I wanted to create a project that has an impact on others, as well as wanting to share my experiences in dealing with Dementia and Alzheimer’s on a daily basis. In some ways, I hope my project might be seen as a source of strength and a tool to support other families who might be struggling with similar issues.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a photographic series about belonging. It’s a reflection on and personal note to emotional limbo; a limbo induced by the feeling that I don’t belong.

It’s something that creates dizziness and confusion within my life. A feeling of being scared and anxious about the future, the need to constantly be searching for something else. Something more. Something I am yet to find.

Recommend us something…

I’m currently reading M Train, Patti Smith’s memoir. A beautiful journey through space and artistic creation.

Tell us about a piece of art that has had a strong influence on you .

One piece of art that strongly influenced me is The Monk by the Sea by the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. It makes me reflect on space and silence, embrace them and not be afraid of them.

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