• Giacomo Russo

Leaving Home Again

Yes right, I left home again. The first time was exactly six years ago. Back then I left to make it to the Smokey City, chasing dreams of studying, working and living the London life. This time I left it for reasons which, on the surface might look completely different, but to speak the truth, I can say that what pulled the trigger was another act of dreaming, but on a much larger scale. The destination this time is simple, there is no destination. The plan, even simpler, just slow-paced travelling, focusing on the road, keeping my eyes open and my camera always at hand. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? At least on paper it is. But actually, to put my life together and reach Chilean Patagonia, from where the road to be followed begins, involved not only considerate packing and a one-way plane ticket, but much more.

The hardest part was without doubt building up confidence, putting on a brave face, saying goodbye and overcoming the fear of leaving everything behind in name of the unknown. At stake there was a life with its stable corporate job, a comforting daily routine, a nice house, great flatmates, friends, free time and all that. But still, I felt something was not in the right place yet. Restlessness had kept me awake night after night and made me wonder what could be done to fill the hole. To put it better, I should actually say that it made my imagination wander since I guess I have always known what the solution might be.

So, after a couple of years of faffing around, I decided it was time to take action and take the risk. I quit my life, left my job, sold all my stuff. I decided I would be travelling slow and light with just my camera, trying to tell stories from the world, and mine through them. I thought it could be the best way to release that restiveness accumulated in my heart and to give voice to the many questions stacked in my head. Anticipation took the place of restlessness. More sleepless nights lay ahead.

However, between the trip and me there was another thing to consider. The return. I would be spending a couple of months at home before flying to South America. On the 30th of November 2016, loaded like a desert camel, I flew to Naples. Last time I went back it was a year before, but this time was different, there was no return ticket to London.

On that day, as soon as I walked in the house I grew up in, a strange and surprising feeling overcame me. For about a minute I felt like I was looking at my house and my room with a different eye. I had glimpses of what those places might look like to a stranger. The sense of not belonging clashed with the wish to taste that homely feeling again, leaving me in the middle of a bitter but interesting re-discovery. This was my home, but it also wasn’t. In the following days, that feeling pervaded other areas outside my house, the town, the places I used to hang around, the relationships with the people I have known for ages. It was then that I had the idea to translate into images the changes I was living, the feelings which I had definitely experienced before but not so intensely.

That was the birth of a photographic project entitled Returns. I am aiming this photo story to be an insight into the meaning of home, an analysis of its sweetness and the way it defines who we are. I want to question the stable meaning we attach to it, the connotations of steadiness that ‘feeling at home’ implies and which eventually change once you leave. I hope to investigate the sense of placelessness that I constantly experience, which the trip I am embarking on could be the answer to. As well as to my relentless need to move and change my perspective.

The photos in this story were all taken at my grandparents’ house. I chose it as a stage for various reasons. The house represents a depository for all my childhood memories since I spent most of my time there while my parents were working. Those rooms, the kitchen activities, the food cooked by my grandmother, the ornaments around the house, are all elements which have contributed to shaping the idea of homely comfort in my mind, of shelter and warm reassurance, aspects connected to the concept of home. My grandparents also represent metaphorically the roots, the origins and the agents in the development of my cultural identity. Questioning the notion of home in such a place denotes for me a total upturning of the concept itself.

Through my images I want to suggest an idea of home that is no longer a place but just a returning memory, a recollection of moments, emotions, atmospheres that remind us who we were and who we have become. By remembering alone, whether or not we are in that specific place, we are returning home. Memories are not solid matter as they are altered by the passage of time and our daily experiences. Such alterations are especially heightened when we leave the place we have called home for other places, irrespective of the reasons that have pushed us to move. This can explain the sense of estrangement and alienation, the feeling of not fitting, which I experience each time I return.

The use of the camera as a means to convey those feelings, gives me the chance to create a sort of detachment and separation, which is central to the development of my ideas. It enables me to be at the same time there and not there. Whilst all this suggests a negative analysis of this sense of loss, my aim is completely the opposite. It is indeed a loss but which in my opinion becomes a mighty gain since, it allows me to find that homely feeling wherever I go, to return every time I desire to.

Through my images, I will be telling the stories of the places I visit and the people I meet during my trip. This first project is a starting point, the launch pad for my photographic journeys, the base for my countless returns. If you want to see the whole story you can find it here.

© Giacomo Russo 2020