Dear Padua #2
Shield (2010 - 2011)
I’m at an impasse with this newsletter’s edition. I don’t like leaving things incomplete, but I also realized I would have to share more than I’m comfortable with as the story progresses. Some days I’m brave and some days I want to go back to hiding. My therapist gave me the green light — I should credit her as co-writer.
In my previous life in Moldova, I was a model student and a bit of a teacher’s pet. The most annoying thing was that it came easy to me, so I never learned to put in the effort. My whole identity revolved around being perceived as intelligent. I got robbed of it pretty much instantaneously when I arrived in Italy.
Without any real knowledge of the scholastic system, I ended up in one of the toughest schools in the city. I was also one of the very few immigrants there. On my first day of school, the maths teacher kept asking me “come mai?” — how come I chose this school? I stared at her, both not really understanding the language, and wondering what kind of question that was. It’s a school, lady. I need to be in one.
It took me a while, but I eventually understood. She was worried for me.
On weekends, I took Italian classes in a different school. The teacher was a lovely old lady that drove a red car that we (other immigrant students) called “coccinella” (ladybug). She liked me because I picked up quickly on things. There were probably other reasons — like the fact that I was a sweet kid? — but I only cared about being perceived as smart, even for just two days a week.
I learned Italian in a month or two, but it took me longer to actually talk. I was becoming proficient in another language. My camera quickly adapted to my needs at the time. It was a means of expression, an anchor for my identity and most importantly, a shield.
I didn’t want to be seen, and the camera prevented me from interacting with people. It almost acted as a substitute for my social skills. While roaming the streets of my foreign new city, I felt my presence was validated because I had this tiny camera in my hands. Without one, I feared I would be questioned, again, how come I was there.
I took a lot of street photography and photos of my classmates in the beginning. I don’t talk to most of them, so I don’t think I should share those photos, at least not where they’re recognizable. Is this fair? I don’t want to be a bad art friend.
When I would be invited to hang out, I always felt that was done out of pity (I could be wrong, just saying how it felt). I still looked forward to those situations because I could bring my camera.
Mostly, I was a loner that chose to be lonely before I could be rejected. I wanted to be chosen, but that never was the case. So it was me and the camera. I thought that was my power. I don't need you, I don't like you, I’m just here to take your photo. All shielded up.
I managed to make some friends later on. Some I’m still friends with today, some I lost along the way. My identity is still tied to photography, but I’m learning to let that go. I feel dumb most days while knowing I’m not and wishing I didn’t care.
There’s a new point-and-shoot camera in my life, the Fujifilm x100V, and I’ll adapt it to my new needs once again. In a total 180 degrees turn, I will use it to show my feelings, share my story and connect with others.
Come to think of it, it’s what I’m doing with these old photos as well. Isn’t that fascinating?
Thanks for reading Bouquet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.