Introductory Essay – Doors of Memory

Image of a lock, keeping two gray doors together

Memories of my birthplace, Avella, Italy, have always been suffused with the warmth of family, mountain vistas, and the ever-present sight of a medieval castle on a hill. At home in New York I wrote poems and reminiscences of my early experiences in Avella. However, during my visits there, I enjoyed walking all over town and taking photos.

Very soon it became apparent that I was crafting an essay of my feelings for Avella: not in words, but in photographs. I was focusing on old buildings, old doors, and old crumbling walls. Together with the aesthetics of peeling paint, rough wood, sunlight, and shadows, they spoke to me of longevity and endurance. I began to see ancient doors and windows as openings into the memories of my childhood in Avella. They provided me with an appreciation of Avella’s past and of the lives of my ancestors. In addition, they also served as a contrast to the present as I photographed modern doors. Even more important, however, was the confirmation of what the heritage of birth in this particular town really meant to me.

In this photographic essay, I seek to share the sense of rootedness to the land of my birth that is embodied by the old doors and windows. They are channels between my Italian legacy and my native Italian language on the one hand, and my adopted American identity and English language on the other. I hope that viewers, immigrants or not, will feel that primeval pull that birthplace elicits in our hearts, without diminishing the strong identity we feel for the place we call home.

Beginning with the castle, the iconic symbol of Avella, and the beacon that always beckons me, the photos seek to share with the audience my intimate perspective on Avella. Like the doors, she is beautiful in her weathered wood; she is playful in the crags of her crumbling walls; she is still strong and resilient like the locks and hinges on her doors.

Above all, she is wise. She knows that life is a paradox. At once ancient and youthful, she shows rebirth through new openings to the modern world as depicted in the two photos of a contemporary door and an iron gate.

The last photo in the exhibit shows trees literally growing above a locked door. This suggests that life springs anew from ancient secrets buried under the earth. They may seem locked away forever, but through my camera lens, I found the key, opened the doors of memory, and stepped into a treasure trove.

Eleanor Maiella Imperato