Adelaide: When Your Grandma Loves Lady Gaga
Photographer, journalist, and writer. Born in Brazil, lives in Cologne. Published her works in i-D, The Huffington Post, Vice, and Vogue. Exhibited at the solo and group exhibitions in Germany, France, USA, Argentina, and Brazil.
I chose Adelaide as a character not because she is my grandmother or because we have the same name, but because of her life story.
She was born 94 years ago in rural Brazil, in a very poor region in rural Brazil, called the Sertão. She was an amateur actress during an extremely conservative period. She had a secret wedding with my grandfather, probably because she was already pregnant, which is something she never admitted and we will never know, but it is great to imagine them running away early in the morning to get married in some small church in the deep Brazilian countryside.
After she got married, my grandfather forbade her from working as an actress. So she started helping him with his small grocery store. Adelaide gave birth to 16 children, 2 of them died when they were still babies. After my grandfather went bankrupt, she moved to a bigger city alone with her 14 kids, and he stayed in the countryside.
She kept having kids until she was almost 50 years old because, as a Catholic woman, she wouldn’t use any contraceptives.
Adelaide lived through various political and economic crisis, from World War II to the coup d’etat and the military dictatorship in Brazil, and is alive and well to tell the story.
It started very unpretentiously, just some portraits of her making fun of herself, taken during my vacations in Brazil. At that time, I was studying Photography at the Ostkreuz School in Berlin and my teachers suggested I should take this idea seriously, make a project out of it. So I talked to grandma and explained the idea to her: we would think about little “screenplays” together, and shoot these “scenes”. She very often suggested places or situations to be photographed, so in that sense she is also co-author of this project.
Every two years I travel to Brazil and work intensively with her. This January, for example, we took around 20 photos. I don’t know how many pictures will make the final project, it is a still a work in progress.
My mother named me after Dostoyevsky’s Adelaide Ivanova from The Brothers Karamazov. But Adelaide — grandmother’s persona — is also a sort of an alter ego, for sure.
The project changed our lives in a sense that it brought us much closer together. For me personally, it made me much more empathetic to elderly people and interested in them. Adelaide is 60 years older than me and still we work perfectly together. We edit the images together, make decisions together.
In her words, this project makes her feel more alive. And it makes me feel useful.
A fun fact about the two Adelaides: Grandma loves Lady Gaga, and we always fight about it because I am a Madonna fan.