Alina Trifan is a young photographer based in Sheffield, UK. Describing photography as either a “shield or a connector” to the outside world, her work focuses on the everyday; from dreamlike reflections on her personal experiences to sensitive portrayals of her natural surroundings.
Dear Padua focuses on the former. Revisiting photographs she took as a teen, the project is a therapeutic journey into her past to explore difficult feelings she experienced following her move from Moldova to the unknown territory of Padua.
In the fifth edition of “Arrivals,” Wesley Verhoeve speaks to Alina about how she arrived at this project.
Wesley Verhoeve: Alina, can you tell me how you arrived at your ongoing project Dear Padua?
Alina Trifan: In 2020, I moved to the UK from Italy. After the move and the ongoing Covid lockdown, I was struggling mentally and professionally, so I began therapy. In the process, I found that my depression had its roots in my early teenage years, when I emigrated with my parents from Moldova to Padua, Italy.
My memory is not perfect and words often fail me, but I quickly realized that I had documented everything. I started taking my first photos the moment I moved to Padua. As I was going through my archive, I thought about writing about my experiences as an immigrant. At the same time, I noticed how my photography has evolved from when I was using a tiny point and shoot to now. My therapist was happy about it!
For many years I used my camera as a defense mechanism—it allowed me to hide and not interact with people. By sharing this project publicly, I’m repurposing my old work in an attempt to seek connection. I’m really just trying to come out of my shell.
WV: How has it been for you to go through all these old photos from such a pivotal time in your life? What are the feelings that are coming up for you?
AT: I’m sure that to an external eye the photos may not seem particularly sentimental. However, whenever I look at them I can remember how I felt when I took them. It’s really powerful. As I look back, I have a lot of compassion and pride for the younger me. In spite of everything, I made something beautiful. These are not my best photos, but I love them dearly. There’s so much passion, even when I was apathetic about everything else. Not to sound too dramatic but photography probably saved my life.
WV: How does your family feel about you revisiting the period through this project? You mention your brother was young during the move so he is pretty much all Italian culturally, but I imagine your parents having gone through such a stressful change as adults might have a strong response?
AT: My family, except for my brother, doesn’t know about the project. Although I love my parents, I did not grow up in an environment where emotional expression was encouraged. To confront my pain and their pain, which I’m sure they experienced, will take a lot of strength. My brother found out about the project through Twitter. He was graceful and mature about it. I hope in this way he can understand why I was sometimes unnecessarily angry with him. Sorry!
WV: Do you plan on sharing the project with your parents later on?
AT: My parents don’t speak English and generally don’t follow my photography closely, despite them being the ones to gift me my first camera. That being said, I would be happy to share the visual aspect of the project. Not so much the things I write.
WV: What has been the most challenging aspect of working on this project so far?
AT: It’s hard enough to share my story with strangers, but it’s even harder to know that some of my former classmates and old friends are reading it. People had no idea what I was going through because I was quiet and a loner. Now everyone knows!
WV: How does that make you feel?
AT: It makes me cringe! But you know that meme: “I am cringe but I am free.” That’s the goal. To be accepted and loved for who I am.
WV: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of the project for you so far?
AT: I used to carry a lot of shame about my past. About being an immigrant, about being held back in school, about not having a lot of friends. In laying it all out on the table, I was able to let go of that shame.
WV: Has this shame held back or otherwise influenced your photography in the past? Or your drive to achieve?
AT: I don’t know if it was the shame or just a lack of self confidence, but I would perceive my photography as being inferior or not ‘real’ art. I didn’t go to art school after all. I’m only now opening up more about my work and trying to get it out there.
I also have a renewed appreciation for my old photography. It’s so interesting to see what I was visually drawn to. I miss that carefree attitude where I didn’t focus on taking ‘good’ photos, but just on documenting my life.
WV: With Moldova being a former USSR state that freed itself from Soviet rule, does the current war between Russia and Ukraine have anything to do with you pursuing this project? Is it influencing you in any particular way?
AT: I started Dear Padua before the war, but now I look differently at the photos I took whenever I visited back home in Chișinău. Ukraine and Moldova have such a similar background that it’s difficult not to selfishly think “it could’ve been my family, my city.” I’m grateful for the safety and privilege I have now as a European citizen, and I’ll never take it for granted.
WV: Do you have a specific vision for the future of this project? What kind of format do you imagine you’ll share the work in once it’s completed?
AT: At the moment, Dear Padua is a monthly edition of my newsletter. I’m not sure where it will end or how it will evolve, but I think it would be interesting to draw parallels with my present work when I’m done—either in a book format or as an NFT project. Or maybe it stays a secret between me and my readers.
Editor’s note: Arrivals is an ongoing column focused on remarkable projects by new voices in photography, curated by Wesley Verhoeve. Read more about him here.