“Abuelas” is a series of portraits of undocumented Mexican immigrant women who came to live in New York City in their youth and, over time, became grandmothers. The portraits are taken in their homes, focusing on how they want to show themselves in their most intimate spaces.
Featuring: Cinthya Santos Briones
United Photo Industries
James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of the New York Times Lens Blog
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This project focuses on undocumented Mexican immigrant women who came to New York decades ago in search of opportunity for their families. Overtime, they built their lives here and have become elders of their communities: the abuelas. Many have children and grandchildren living on either side of the borders. Yet 20 and 30 years later, they still remain invisible and undocumented.
I made portraits of these women in the intimacy of their own homes, seeking to convey the women’s relationship to place, and the shaping and appropriation of their environment. In these photographs, home decorations become part of the women’s wider symbolic recreation of culture, memory and ownership beyond borders.
I photograph these environmental portraits in a participatory manner. I ask the women, “How do you like to be seen or represented through photography?” They choose how and where they want to be seen in their homes and what outfits they want to wear. The series seeks to offer them the opportunity to face the camera and be depicted in a way that reflects their own sense of identity.
Cinthya Santos Briones, a Mexican documentary photographer and photojournalist based in New York City, studied anthropology and ethnohistory. Her interest in documentary photography emerges through the ethnographic work she did as an anthropologist in indigenous communities in Mexico, documenting ceremonial and healing rituals, immigration, and transnational lives in New York. Since then, her work has been influenced by human rights struggles, focusing on issues of migration, gender and identity. Her images explore the relationship between space, memory, time and culture.
Cinthya is a recent graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York City. In the autumn of 2016, she received a fellowship granted by the Magnum Foundation and in 2017, she received the En Foco fellowship. Cinthya’s work has been published by The New York Times Lens Blog, PDN, La Jornada, Vogue and Open Society Foundations, among others.