This beautiful photoessay portraying the life of a Moldovian family was selected as a finalist in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2015. Discover more inspiring work from all 31 of the winners and finalists.

Moldova is one of poorest countries in Europe and one of the consequences of this fact is felt most harshly in the fabric of the family. All over, you will find children—seeming orphans—who actually have parents. While the kids’ mom and dad are alive and well, they have been forced to leave the country to find work abroad, ironically, in order to support their families.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union—when the country was a prosperous farming and wine community—nearly a quarter of the population has moved abroad in search of a better life.

Thus, Moldova is facing many challenges. Internally, the tiny country struggles with widespread corruption (as exemplified in last year’s banking crisis, which wiped out over $1 billion in wealth). Even more disturbingly, extremists are growing in numbers in the autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia, presaging further unrest.

But internationally, Moldova stays forgotten. The media is largely absent. Although the small country encapsulates many of struggles between East and West in contemporary Europe, its stories go largely untold. Since 2005, I have documented the lives of Moldovans and the many changes the country has experienced.

In the photos above, I focused on the Gradinari family. This past year, they could not afford to buy enough seeds for their harvest since the father of the family was unable to travel to Russia for work. Around the struggling family, I found a strikingly beautiful countryside. Amidst the painful economic pressures, sunflower fields were in blossom.

And so, my pictures are poised between joy and sadness, work and play, summer holidays and annual responsibilities. But I have also captured moments of dreams and fears in this small country that finds itself continually somewhere in between.

—Asa Sjöström


Editors’ Note: Asa Sjöström’s work was also exhibited at the excellent International Photoreporter Festival, which ran from October 3 to November 1, 2015 in Saint Brieuc, Brittany (France).