RETURNS - Chapter one

Gabriela Bulisova

2010 - Ongoing


Returns is a personal project I’ve been working on since I first returned to Slovakia with a camera in my hands. It’s the most personal project I’ve ever worked on, painfully so.

I have lived in the United States for two decades now. Returns home are never easy; they never fail to expose the profound geographic divide that expresses itself in (often repressed) emotional and physical pain. My camera functions as a tool to hide behind, as a way to observe, relate, communicate and bridge the times and moments that were lost, gone, and never experienced…by me.

The project, perhaps never truly innocent, ultimately turned into an identity search; a search not only for myself but for my parents and closest relatives, and for people who are not there anymore. And it became not just a search for the past but a search for the present moment on two different continents.

I got up and walked away from this post many times, every time hoping it would be gone when I came back, hoping I would not have to continue remembering and thinking and making sense of the work and my own self. But the more times I abandoned it, the more the thoughts in my head gained in volume, mocking me in a loud voice: “We are here to stay; deal with us!”

I don’t want this statement to be about my childhood. I don’t want it to be about the time that led me to decide to leave everybody and everything. I don’t want to think about the years I missed seeing the lives of my loved ones. And, I certainly don’t want to talk about losing some of those who are irreplaceable and dearest to me.

But I must write down some words that will help me with editing and sequencing my pictures, words that will inform viewers about my intentions and my way of seeing. And inform them of the people and places I want them to meet and experience. So I stay and write and delete. And I delete again…

And that’s Returns. It’s about me and my parents and my home and my loved ones and the village and the country of Slovakia and me again and the changing relationships I have with each and all of them. It’s about finding my way there and to them and to making memories. It’s about the many past and future returns.

The photographs are grouped in three chapters. The first chapter portrays my grandaunt and uncle; Gizela and Julius. Chapter two is about my mother and father and brother and life in the village, and later, about the absence of my father. And (for now), the last chapter focuses mainly on my mother as she navigates through being alone, living without a man with whom she shared 49 years and then lost without warning. I am there, in each one of the images, trying to breathe life into moments past…

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