Those Who Remain – by Clary Estes

Clary EstesClary Estes is an international photographer, born and raised in Central Kentucky. After receiving her Masters Degree in New Media Photojournalism from the Corcoran College of Art she moved to Japan for two years to practice photojournalism under the Ishibashi Zaidan Fellowship with Nagoya University. She is currently living and working in Moldova and shooting a long-term documentary project on former Stalinist Era deportees from Moldova.

Moldovan Deportees

Those who were deported under Stalinist Soviet oppression from Moldova as children with their families to the Eastern Soviet States are now living in the twilight years of their lives with the memories of their deportation still ingrained in their minds. “Those Who Remain” looks at the personal histories of those who were deported during the massive Stalinist state repression of Moldova as a way to provide a platform for sharing and exploring the issues and history of the deportations on a national and international level. While the deportees had their voices striped from them under Stalinism, they are now speaking not only to their own experiences but also to the experiences of former deportees who are no longer with us. Not only did hundreds of thousands of people die as deportees, but in Moldova, after deportees were liberated and free to return to their country they were systematically silenced and shamed for their history and the oppression they experienced. Only recently has Moldova been willing to look at their history and speak about it on a countrywide level. Many deportees are not just speaking for themselves; they are bearing witness to the trauma of their parents. I want to share this story without bias, in a truthful, genuine manner and in a way that gives deportees back the voices that they had stripped from them.

Not only is this project looking to give a voice to former deportees, it is looking at what it means to photograph memory. How can a photographer and their subject convey the feelings of memory rather than simply showing archival objects or daily life photographs? Throughout this entire project we are moving between the past and the present and trying to understand what experience is in memory and how that is changing in our ever digitizing world. How does the fading event of the deportations affect people today and how can we bring the analogue memories of the deportees together with the digital experiences of today’s citizens?

Clary is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to promote the project. Check it out!

Moldovan Deportees

Bunica Pasha sits in the evening as we talk about her life. She is frequently very sad and moved to tears. We discuss her life in Kazahkstan and her memories jump from the distant to the more recent as she tells me the day that she requested Bunica Ana and her family to take her in and let her be part of their family. She can no longer walk due to extreme leg pain and is confined to her one room in the small separate house she and Bunica Ana share. Bunica Pash is typically unseen and unknown in the village due to her disability, so I was surprised to find another woman who knew about her situation. She mentioned to me, “Pasha used to be so beautiful. It is such a pity she that is as sick as she is. She used to be so active.”

Moldovan Deportees

A family portrait of the Graur women when they were deported to Kazakhstan, Ana, Pasha and Maria with their mother, Maruşca, sitting in front of them.

Moldovan Deportees

Bunica Ana sits in the family kitchen as she prepares coltunasi, a traditional Moldovan dumpling, in the dead of winter. I see that she is staring quietly into nothing and I ask her what she is thinking about. She responds simply with, “My sister, my daughter in Italy, my brother who died. I am remembering my family.” As we talk more and she laments her age, I joke that she is still young. We laugh together and she later says, “I don’t know if I was ever young. My childhood was so sad, I don’t think I was a child then.”

Moldovan Deportees

Bunica Ana climbs through the village of Vadeni as she traces the steps of her childhood in the village before she was deported.

Moldovan Deportees

Many Moldovan men joined the armed forces in their youth. Ana and Pasha’s brother, Andre, was no different. Many men ended up joining the military forces of the very country that was oppressing their family.

Moldovan Deportees

Over the Orthodox Christmas holiday, or ‘Old Christmas’ as it is sometimes called, the local priest will travel to each home in the village and bless the residents. Bunica Pasha cries and kisses the priest’s hand as he gives her a blessing. She regularly gets very emotional when he visits, not only because she can realise her religious needs, but also because he is a relative of the family and she is happy to see her family.

Moldovan Deportees

Ion Postica’s wife, Nina, who was also a deportee born in Siberia, holds up a photo of Ion and his siblings that was taken in Siberia at the time of his deportation.

Moldovan Deportees

Ion and Nina regularly spend the afternoons with their grandson Danu.

Moldovan Deportees

Archive photo of Nina Postica’s father was part of the Romanian army. I asked about his history before he had been arrested. Nina said he didn’t talk about what happened. It was dangerous for the family to talk about his life before the deportations, both in the home and in society. Nina doesn’t know what was written on the back of the photograph.

Moldovan Deportees

Nina Postica puts a candle in the earth in front of her parent’s grave site for pastele blajinilor, a part of Easter in Moldova where families go to visit their relatives grave sites and give offerings and pray.

Moldovan Deportees

In Moldova, the orthodox tradition has a holiday called Pastele Blajinilor. Nina and her family go to visit her brother and mother in her parents home village of Nemteni on the border with Romania.

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