How does it feel to get older?
What does it mean to feel completely lonely?
How does it feel when the body betrays you?
What will be left after I leave this world?
“The Void We Leave” is an ongoing personal project in which I was trying to use the photographic medium to confront my greatest fear—time—and my fear of passing away.
In 2014, a chance encounter led me to meet the members of an aging community living in a crumbly apartment complex in the town of Cienfuegos, in central Cuba. Although approximately sixty years of age separate us, we created a bond, and I have returned to visit them few times each year. I helped carry their groceries, we watched telenovelas together, and mainly, despite a language barrier, we talked. We spoke about our mutual fears. As Delphin (seen in picture 3) once told me:
“There is no more time for dreams to fulfill, places to visit. Soon I will leave. Leaving behind only the void between the walls.”
As time passed, I returned to find empty apartments. Some of my friends left this world, leaving behind only a few personal objects and the walls of their rooms. Those walls witnessed an entire life: relationships, family and birthdays. Joy and sadness. Now, they remain solitary with a void between them.
Soon, the government will lodge new tenants in the empty apartments. Personal objects will be replaced, and the walls will be painted in new colors as new life begins. However, eventually, over time, they too will become another layer of peeling paint on the wall.
Most of the people in this project are no longer alive. Today, I understand more clearly the urge I had to take their portraits in the first place. I was hoping that the camera, with its remarkable ability to freeze time, would be able to help me remember them. Eventually, I too will become a layer of a peeling paint.
Editor’s Note: Wagenstein’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents! You can follow Wagenstein’s work on his personal website.
If you’re interested in seeing other work like this, we’d recommend these previous features: The Drowned, photographs of objects found on the bodies of refugees who died on their journey into Europe; Gentlemen’s Club, the first prize winner of our 2017 Portrait Awards featuring the other half of the prostitution business—the clients; and Lost Family Portraits, a series that gives center stage to refugee families from Syria who have come forward to share their stories.