A still from the video Mother and Grandmother by Silvia Rosi
Shortly after graduating from photography school in London, Silvia Rosi was sitting on the sidewalk in the midst of Asigamé market in Lomé, the capital of Togo. She listened as her mother shopped, spoke with old friends and recalled her life there.
As a child, Rosi’s mother had worked as a seller in Asigamé market. From the age of ten she had woken up in the dark, collected her produce at daybreak, carried it on her head to the market and sold it on before arriving at school.
Rosi, who has received the RPS Vic Odden Award 2021, grew up in Modena, a small Italian city near Bologna, after her parents emigrated before she was born. The visit to Lomé was the first time she met many members of her African family.
“I realised I didn’t really ask my mother that often about her early life,” she says. “I had never really thought about this chapter of my mum’s life – working as a market trader with her little sister.”
Rosi remembers watching the women around her. “I sat there as my mother shopped, and this parade of women walked past me with different produce, these incredibly heavy loads which they were able to carry on their heads.They seemed capable of creating something beautiful out of nothing. So I got my phone out, and took a series of photos.”
Once home in London, Rosi used the images to apply to the Jerwood/PhotoWorks Award. Out of 450 submissions, Rosi won – and so began work on her series Encounters.
Then the pandemic happened, and Rosi was confined to home with her mother. She began to ask her mother pointedly about the past, using photography as a reason to bring the subject up. She’d take notes as her mother spoke, before then composing intimate self-portraits that reflected the stories.
These are multivalent portraits, in which prominent props and dress are used to communicate a narrative about Rosi’s history. In one image she wears her mother’s school uniform. In another, she holds her mother’s radio, the very radio through which she first heard the news that Italy would legalise every migrant in the country, allowing her mother to freely live as an Italian.
Rosi intends now to move to Lomé, learn the native language, and continue her work from there.
‘Sihin’ from the series Encounter, 2019, by Silvia Rosi
The RPS Vic Odden Award recognises a notable achievement in the art of photography by a British photographer aged 35 or under. Read more about Silvia Rosi in the January/February 2022 issue of the RPS Journal.
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