Sandra Bacchi: Watermelons Are Not Strawberries
Sandra Bacchi’s monograph, Watermelon’s are not Strawberries, a photographic memoir published by Yoffy Press in August of 2022, includes 50 high-contrast black and white photographs that visualize the transformation of a mother’s inner world as she raises two daughters with severe food allergies and learning differences. The book features an essay by Sarah Kennel, Aaron Siskind Curator of Photography at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Bacchi has a solo exhibition of Watermelon’s are not Strawberries at the Concept Gallery that runs through October 15th in Pittsburgh, PA. On October 15th at 2pm, the gallery will hold a public conversation between Bacchi and Kennel with a book signing to follow.
Throughout the book’s pages we frequently see the likeness of three people: two children, Ana and Vitória, and their mother, Sandra Bacchi, the author herself.
The photographs individually are complex. The paper stock of the book is very bright white, with deep, rich, blacks laid upon the page. The contrast level generates a stern presence of anxiety and re-orientation that is palpable as one moves through the pages. The motifs that describe the family’s particular hardships in health and education are didactic yet puzzling; the image sequence requires re-reading in order to begin to grasp what is happening to those with whom we are becoming acquainted.
Near the end of the book, an essay titled “The Kids are Alright” by Sarah Kennel clarifies the ambiguities of what the family is confronting.
In the final paragraph of the essay, Kennel encapsulates the book’s essence: “As Vitória taught her mother, when you can’t eat strawberries, you turn to the next best thing and make it what you need it to be. In this way, photographing her daughters allowed Bacchi to explore her own fears. It also enabled her to see her daughters clearly for who they were and who they were becoming.”
Subtle clues throughout the book unnerve the viewer and reveal that there is a threat of the author being swallowed whole by the day-to-day challenges of caretaking. To make this work is a courageous act and I appreciate that it is one of few photobooks that embodies an honest and vulnerable depiction of the resilience, adaptability, and strength that children and their parents are capable of when faced with the unfolding challenges that chronic health conditions pose to the family unit.
In Watermelons Are Not Strawberries, I portray my inner transformation and pursuit of self-awareness while navigating the challenges related to parenting. The black and white photographs blend conceptual and documentary photography that reveals the shapes and shadows of my love for motherhood as it merges with a lifetime of my personal anxiety.
Over six years, the work grew into a story of resilience, hope, and mutual support between my children and me. In this creative process, I found the strength to heal old wounds by examining universal feelings such as sadness, happiness, and love.
My two daughters were challenged with severe food allergies and learning differences in their early years. In helping them cope with their adversities, I was forced to delve into my dark places to confront the deeply entrenched fear, shame, and guilt that stem from my then-undiagnosed dyslexia and celiac disease.
I didn’t want my girls to feel the constant neurotic need to fit into the social norms, as I did my whole life. So, we established our own “normal” way to live our lives, creating a sense of complicity and empathy among each other, building a stronger relationship.
While I was advocating for my daughters, I learned how to advocate for myself. While I was trying to understand them, I deeply understood myself.
Sandra Bacchi is a Brazilian-American visual artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She blends documentary and conceptual photography, video, and glass to weave together truth and fiction through open-ended storytelling. Bacchi focuses on how human beings interact and find common ground.
Bacchi’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and published in contemporary photography magazines and zines. Her photographs were part of exhibitions at the Carlson Gallery of Photography, Griffin Museum of Photography, and Houston Center for Photography, among others. A solo exhibition of Watermelons Are Not Strawberries opens in September 2022 at the Concept Art Gallery, Pittsburgh.
Bacchi was an artist in residence at the Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) from 2019-2020, joining PGC’s board of directors immediately after. In addition, she is a Photolucida Critical Mass 2021 top 200 finalist, a member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, and an artist-in-residence at the 2022-2023 Distillery residency Program at Brew House Association, Pittsburgh.
Follow Sandra Bacchi on Instagram: @sandrajonasbacchi
Sara J. Winston is an artist based in the Hudson Valley region of New York, USA. She is currently the Photography Program Coordinator at Bard College, on the faculty of the Penumbra Foundation Long Term Photobook Program, serves as a mentor in the Image Threads Mentorship Program, and contributor to Lenscratch.
Follow Sara J. Winston on Instagram: @sarajwinston
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
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