Fedyuk, Olena. 2012. Images of Transnational Motherhood

Fedyuk, Olena. 2012. Images of Transnational Motherhood: The Role of Photographs in Measuring Time and Maintaining Connections between Ukraine and Italy. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 38(2):279-300.

The author uses pictures exchanged between Ukrainian women migrants in Italy and their families back home as “primary media,” in an “attempt to break the analytical ‘unit’ of the transnational family” (280). Ukrainians comprise the 5th largest migrant group in Italy, and this group is composed mostly of women who live by themselves. In contrast to the pictures taken by Filipino women domestic workers in HK (Margold 2004), the photos taken by Ukrainian women in Italy, following Wolbert (2001), are “not supposed to tell any story” (294). This is because Ukrainian mothers are careful not to suggest to their families left behind that they have found their new self, a new life while in migration, or are able to gain new experiences that are not available in Ukraine (294). There is also a striking difference in the photos sent by migrants and photos sent by their families. The photos sent by migrants are “static” and confirm “non-change,” depicting the migrant mother’s life as on hold “until she returns to her family and gets a life again” (297). In contrast, the photos from home depict change, telling how life back home without the mother has changed. In maintaining transnational families, photographs can be seen as the “glue” that binds them despite time and distance, and that tell of the family members’ sense of obligation to each other. The author writes, “it is not separation but the possibility of reunification that a picture has to profess” (298). Fedyuk suggests the use of photographs in maintaining transnational families: they fill absences, compensate for the lack of intimacy between mothers and their families, and finally, serve as a reminder of the ‘other life’ that was left behind only temporarily (298). In the instances that the mothers return home, photographs received/sent in the past are not meant to be shared or remembered, as “[o]nly moments of unity are worth remembering in photographs” (298). Migration is thus seen as merely temporary, and like the photographs that reflect a family member’s absence, is not celebrated.

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