NEW BLOG !!!

 

For those who have been following my blog over the past many years,

THANK YOU!!! 

I am excited to announce that I am in the process of reorganizing and giving a make-over to my online presence. A new and updated blog can be found at :

www.rachaelcerrottiblog.com

New posts to look forward to will include work from New England to New Orleans to Armenia to across Central Europe and into Scandinavia. I encourage you to sign up and please continue following along.

As always, you can find my portfolio at :

www.rachaelcerrotti.com

 

My World : The End of 2015, The Beginning of the Next Chapter

My World : The End of 2015, The Beginning of the Next Chapter

It is January 5, 2016 and I am sitting in a house on a hill in Maine.

This is the house that I watched my dad build from an early age. This is the house that nearly every family vacation would take place in. This is the house that I only learned to love and appreciate once my teenage years passed and adulthood set in. This is also the house where, just a few short months ago, I was married.

Since coming home from my year-long travels to work on my documentary project, Follow My Footprints, life has been a blur. September was all about settling back into Boston and trying to fathom the fact that I had been gone for a year on a solo journey and what that meant in terms of coming back “home.” October was about our wedding and the months of November and December brought some great times with great people as well as some painful realities.

Rather than sharing a few pictures from each of these past few months, I want to wrap up 2015 focusing on an incredible week of family, friends and the coming together of people I love from three different countries – Poland, Denmark and America.

In the third week of October, this house in Maine, where I now sit in the cold and quiet, was full of warmth, laughter and love. Our wedding ceremony was small and intimate, only our parents and my brother joined us; my dad officiated. We stood in the woods, on a perfect October day, against the backdrop of vibrant fall foliage and said “I do.”

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Our Wedding in the woods. Photographed by the extremely talented and always wonderful Tracie Van Aukin.

A few days later, still feeling celebratory, we were joined by my most cherished strangers – the Christiansen family whom I lived with in Denmark. Purely by coincidence, they decided to take their three children and visit the East Coast during this week. I connected with the Christiansens this past year as I wandered Europe searching for connections to my grandmother’s story. Sine’s grandmother was my grandmother’s foster mother in 1943. After I spent a month living on their farm this past February/March, they became family.

This week was a perfect culmination of what the past year has been for me.

It is amazing how much life changes in a year. Some people depart from your life and others pass through quickly, still leaving an imprint. And then there are the individuals that in a short matter of time become family. I went to Europe in hopes of better understanding my grandmother’s life after she escaped Czechoslovakia in 1939. While searching for her narrative, my own story began to unfold.

My grandmother left Europe with no family by her side. How lucky am I to know that because of her life which inspired my journey, I now have family in different corners of the world.

This is just the beginning. My life in 2015 was nothing similar to what my life will ever be again. It was one of the best years of my life and one of the hardest years of my life. There are things that happened that I wish I could forget and there are moments and places that I want nothing more than to return to. But I am beginning 2016 feeling appreciative – I have friends, I have wonderful family (both new and old) and have been gifted the freedom of exploration.

Cheers to my Polish, Danish and American family. Thank you for joining us during this week and showing me just how meaningful life can be. We feel loved.

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Headed up to Maine.
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And then I married this guy.
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The natural beauty which surrounded us.
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My mother and brother.
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Pure happiness.
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My dad, who officiated our wedding, does his very best to read our marriage certificate.
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And then our witnesses (my brother and father-in-law) signed it and of course we all celebrated by eating cake.
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The Christiansen Family from Denmark joined us the weekend after and we all broke bread together  – in Polish, English and Danish. What followed was a humorous attempt to speak in each others native languages.
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We puzzled the weekend away.
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And hiked.
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Sushi, our loyal black lab, made sure everyone was keeping up.
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And then we got to the top of the mountain.
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Sushi protected the kids.
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And we all enjoyed the nature together.
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I photographed Liva, one of my most favorite models.
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And we introduced our Danish friends to the fun you can have with New England foliage.
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We canoed around the lake.
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And our father’s dragged the canoe back home.
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Sergiusz tried to get used to wearing a ring.
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And my mom enjoyed building structures out of coasters during our dinner in town.
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We ended the weekend warming our bodies by the fire and our stomachs with s’mores (a brand new food for the Poles and Danes).
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We reflected. During an excursion into Belfast, one of the nearby towns, Sergiusz and I stumbled upon this quiet evening scene. I look at it and think of how even though life can seem overwhelming and perhaps hopeless at times that there are hidden moments of calm and beauty that constantly surround us. In a crazy year of mine, this week was my moment of serenity, one that I will treasure forever.

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Dave & Lindsey

On a hot September day in the Berkshires, two beautiful people were married. My dear friends, Dave and Lindsey, tied the knot during a backyard wedding in Becket, Massachusetts. Their hyper and happy golden retriever, Kiwi, took on the important role as the ring bearer and friends and family gathered on the grass for the ceremony. The nuptials were followed by a full day of camp activities, a fancy Chipotle feast, a rockin’ dance party in a barn, a bonfire and a night of camping.

Their wedding so awesomely summed up the personality of these two adventurers. Here are some photographs of their day, noting that at a certain point, I point the camera down and my party pants on.

Cheers to your journey in life together!

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Carly & Josh

Carly & Josh

Cheers to Carly and Josh who were married this past October on a perfect Saturday in New England! The wedding ceremony and reception was held at the Musketaquid Sportsman Club in Concord, Massachusetts – a hidden gem about 30 minutes outside of Boston. It was great to see some familiar faces and celebrate with this incredibly fun, relaxed and all around awesome couple. Congratulations on this next chapter in life!

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My World : July & August 2015

My World : July & August 2015

After a much needed deep breath, I have finally pulled together a selection of my photographs taken this past July and August, the final two months of my year-long travels.

For nine months, I traveled around Central Europe and Scandinavia to work on my long-term project, Follow My Footprints, knowing that my journey would eventually bring me back to the United States.

This was a trip that I was looking forward to for a long time. For as much as I have traveled internationally, I was embarrassed by how little of the United States I had seen. Outside of my New England bubble, my trips in America were limited to going as south as North Carolina with just a sprinkling of the Midwest and the West Coast.

My first stop on this journey was Cincinnati, Ohio – the place where my grandmother first came when she immigrated to America in 1950. From there I took the bus to Chicago, with a stopover in Indiana to spend some time with a good friend. From Chicago, I boarded the infamous California Zephyr and journey over 20 hours to Denver where I spent a week recreating. Then I hopped back on the train and spent another 36 hours or so making my way west to San Francisco. After a week in the bay area, I made a 36 hour visit to Portland, Oregon before returning east to New York City, Philadelphia and Delaware.

By the end of August, I was exhausted and completely broke. I headed back to Boston for a two week stint of sleeping off a year of traveling in my parent’s basement before returning to my own apartment.

I loved this cross-country journey and hope to do it again as I came home feeling entirely unsatisfied. While I was in Europe, I gave myself over a month to explore my destinations, but in the United States I was packing up my overweight backpack before I even had the chance to take everything out.

In this blog post, I am mostly including the portraits of some of the people I met along the way. For the first time in a long time, I was exploring in a country where having an in-depth conversation with a stranger was not hindered by a language barrier. The people I met along my way provided me with context, company and comfort as I finished off a year of being on my own.

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This is a folder of information left for me and my brother by my grandmother, Hana Dubova, whose path of displacement I retraced over the last year. This file, along with thousands of pages of documents, writings and pictures are what I used to puzzle together my travel itinerary both in Europe and the United States.

Cincinnati, Ohio

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In Cincinnati, Ohio, I was given a place to stay at Hebrew Union College. This is Alison, one of the security guards at the institution. We spoke a great amount about his life growing up in the changing urban landscape that he has always called home. He was vulnerable in sharing his thoughts on racism as well as intimate facts about the challenges that engulfed his early adult life. I interviewed him on my last day there and look forward to sharing more about his story in the future.

Indiana

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This is my friend Sarah and her husband Jeremy. Jeremy is a pilot and flew us around Indiana in this little plane. I even got to steer while we were in the air, making me feel as giddy as a kid. Sarah recently gave birth to two beautiful baby girls.

Chicago, Illinois

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On my first night in Chicago, I headed to a blue’s bar to enjoy some music. This musician stood with me for a bit, frequently giving me tidbits of information about his own musical calling. I asked to take his portrait and I made this picture of him which has become a favorite of mine due to the wonderful painting in the background.

California Zephyr : Chicago, Illinois – Denver, Colorado

Taking the California Zephyr was one of my most favorite travel adventures yet. I found fascinating and charismatic conversation with strangers as well as ample alone time. For anyone seeking an affordable and easy-to-organize trip in the United States, I highly recommend traveling by train. The photographs below are portraits of the people I socialized with as the train crossed over over a thousand miles of flat farmland.

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The California Zephyr is equipped with a viewing car that also serves as a social space.
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This is James,  a Chicago-based artist and the first person I spoke to on the train. I was drawn into conversation with him after admiring his art. We talked about self-publishing books after he showed me the graphic novel he is working on.

 

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This is Eric, a love-struck guy from Illinois who was headed to Denver to see his girlfriend. He raved about her and showed me the countdown he had on his phone to keep track of how many hours until he would see her. Our random conversation turned into a friendship that lasted all the way to Denver. His calm demeanor helped me stay sane during a vicious tornado warning which hurled me far outside of my comfort zone.
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As the sun set, conversation amongst strangers continued in the lounge car.
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Conversation, laughter and drinking continued into the night.
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I curled up in my spacious seat somewhere in Iowa and woke up in Nebraska.

Denver, Colorado

While in Denver, I was lucky enough to have a chance to stay with Kiersten, a good friend of mine who I know from New England. We bonded back in 2013 when we impulsively decided to jump out of a plane together in Rhode Island. A little less than two years ago, Kiersten was in a devastating car accident that left her with an incomplete spinal cord injury. Not only has she relearned how to walk since then, but she has returned to working in the field of outdoor education, proving that a handicap won’t hold her back.

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Kiersten leads me through Roxborough State Park.
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Kiersten, parked in a handicap spot, proves that she has regained much of her strength as she ties our paddle boards onto the roof of her car. We had just spent the afternoon floating on Evergreen Reservoir.
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Kiersten’s scar, a permanent reminder of the car accident that nearly took her life, shines in the Colorado sun. For her, the scar has become a source of strength.

California Zephyr : Denver, Colorado – Emeryville, California

I boarded the second leg of my train trip, knowing that I was nearing the end of my travels. Once I got to California, I would only be taking flights and a few buses before returning home to Boston. In a way this fact comforted me, but I also felt a deep sadness. Unlike the first chapter of my ride along the California Zephyr, I mostly kept to myself. I had a few one-on-one conversations with some really amazing people, but aside for that I slept, stared out the window and did my best to write down a few thoughts. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. The ride was absolutely stunning; I was captivated by the winding route we took through the Rocky Mountains and along the Colorado River. A day and a half after boarding, we approached Emeryville, the final stop and the closest station to San Francisco.

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A train attendant along the California Zephyr surveys the line of people waiting to board in Denver.
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The Colorado River is seen for hours as the train chugged along.
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The scenery between Colorado and California was diverse and completely captivating. I stared out the window with wide eyes.
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As interesting as looking out the window is surveying some of the unusual scenes aboard the train. Here a man sits with his girlfriend’s chameleon. They traveled from Iowa to California with a few different lizards.
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My alone time.

San Francisco, California

I love San Francisco. The hills are no joke; exploring this city is a work-out. I spent most of my time on foot, wandering from one neighborhood to the other. I left feeling frustrated; my questions and curiosities about the Bay Area were just forming when it was time to leave. I hope to return soon, for both work and pleasure.

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San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is seen from a distance.
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The beautiful summer weather brought flocks of young people outside after work. Here, a man encourages residents to register to vote.
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Street musicians entertain in The Mission District.
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I met Stephen Gibson, an Oakland-based artist, during the final hour of my ride on the California Zephyr. He was traveling with his partner Carlos; they had just been visiting family in the Midwest. Stephen warmly welcomed me into his home, shared his personal struggles with me and showed me his art. He allowed me to photograph him and agreed to be interviewed for Images & Voices of Hope. Stephen and I have stayed in touch and he has become an important presence in my life, always reminding me that all it takes is the embrace by one person to go from feeling like a stranger in an unfamiliar place to feeling at home.

Queens, New York

Welcome back to the East Coast! Just a short four hours from my home in Boston, I found myself in my final landing spot in my journey to retrace the path of my grandmother’s displacement. I was in Flushing, Queens, a place I distinctly knew, not because my mother was born there (which she was), but from the 90s sitcom, The Nanny. But what I found was not the affluent Jewish neighborhood that once was, but rather the most identifiable cultural difference I had seen all year. I felt like I was in China. The signs were in a language I didn’t understand; it was the same language that everyone around me was speaking. Most notably, I looked different, something I didn’t ever experience during my many months in Europe.

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Welcome to Flushing!
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The streets in Flushing were extremely crowded, making the humid, summer heat ever more present.
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Two girls walk through Flushing.

***

Most of these pictures come from my long-term documentary project about my grandmother’s displacement as a result of the Holocaust. I spent the past year retracing her journey between the years of 1939 and 1952. To learn more and to read more about these images and the places they were taken, please check out : www.fmfblog.com.

 

 

Jessica & Phil

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I couldn’t have picked a better wedding to come home to! After spending nine months abroad, I returned to Boston with the job of photographing my friend Jessica’s wedding. This elegant, yet laid-back, Jewish wedding was full of love, laughter and an incredible amount of meaning.

Congratulations Jessica and Phil!

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Venue : Alden Castle / Brookline, Massachusetts

Second Photographer : Erica Robinson Photography

My World : May & June 2015

My World : May & June 2015

I am writing this blog post from my parent’s house, located in the Greater Boston Area. It has been about a month since I left my life in Europe. Somehow nearly four weeks have past and my short time at “home” is coming to an end. In a few days I get back on the road to continue working on my project, Follow My Footprints.

There are so many things that feel surreal in my life on a daily basis, but I didn’t quite realize it until I went back into my archives to select pictures for this blog post. I did so much and saw so many places in my final weeks in Europe which is also a completely appropriate way to describe all of my nine months jumping back and forth from Central Europe to Scandinavia (and a few visits to Italy).

I am glad to have had some time here in New England. Spending time with family and reintroducing myself to the reality that I left has been a good way to refresh and press the restart button.

I haven’t taken so many photographs since returning to Boston and part of that was intentional and part of that was natural. In a new place, I hardly ever leave the house (or even the room) without my camera. It becomes a part of my identity. I find that it is becoming increasingly important for me to take time without it; sometimes that means leaving it on the shelf at home and at other times it means just having it with me without feeling an obligation to it.

These pictures sum up my final month living in Europe. There are photographs from Poland, Denmark, Italy, and Austria. I was also in Sweden, Czech Republic and Germany, but have not included any images from there. Enjoy! I look forward to being able to share photographs made in the USA in the next post!

Venice, Italy

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San Gusme, Italy

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Badio Agnano, Tuscany

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We met Palerio (left) early on in our stay in Tuscany. He owned the land next to the house which we were renting and was not shy about showing us around or selling us his homemade wine. His son (right), Alessio, came by the property on our last day there to help translate some of his father’s stories from Italian to English. Meeting these two added so much to our experience in Tuscany and made us even more excited to return to this fantastically beautiful place. I continue to say that there is no better way to get to know a place than by making friends with the locals. May 8, 2015.

Palerio does rent out his Tuscan home for families or individuals (sleeping space for up to four). You can visit their Facebook Page or contact me for more information.

Alpbach, Austria

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May 9, 2016

Poznan, Poland

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Warta River. May 22, 2015
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One of the most unique places I saw in Poznan was inside of the Old Slaughterhouse which sits just a few minutes walk from the Old Town Square. Normally this place is locked up with the exception of a weekly Antique Market, but on this weekend in late-May, the vacant space was used to host a beer and food truck festival. It is amazing what a few lights and some good energy can do to transform a place. May 23, 2015.
This is one of my favorite portraits I took all year. It is lit with only the natural light shining in from a window above and taken in Poznan's vacant Old Slaughterhouse.
This is one of my favorite portraits I took all year. It is lit with only the natural light shining in from a window above and taken in Poznan’s vacant Old Slaughterhouse. May 23, 2015.

Tolstrup, Denmark

I had to return to Denmark one last time before leaving Europe. I had spent a month living on this farm back in February/March and left feeling as though I had gained another family. Although it wasn’t nearly for enough time, it was awesome to go back as a short-term visitor. I will be seeing this family once again in just over a year and am thrilled to know that I can return to a place where I feel so at home.

Liva, 11, takes care of Krollet, one of the family's many sheep. Krollet was rejected by his mother and the rest of the herd, so he lives in the family's backyard, often times sneaking his way into the house. May 31, 2015.
Liva, 11, takes care of Krollet, one of the family’s many sheep. Krollet was rejected by his mother and the rest of the herd, so he lives in the family’s backyard, often times sneaking his way into the house. May 31, 2015.
Torsten tends to the family's bees. They never need to buy honey as each year they make a batch of their own.
Torsten, the patriarch of the family, tends to the family’s bees. They never need to buy honey as each year they make a batch of their own. This was my first experience with beekeeping, a hobby that I would happily take up one day. June 1, 2015
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Baby chickens, ducks, and geese are ready to hatch. It is incredibly humbling to see an animal emerging into this world. June 1, 2015.

If you would like to visit Møllebakkegaard Farm, you can visit their website or contact me for more information. They have apartments that they rent out year-round as well as a recently renovated event space with a full professional kitchen. It is located just over an hour away from Copenhagen.

Poznan, Poland

My final days in Europe were spent in Poznan, Poland – a city that was a stranger to me 10 months ago, but now is one that I consider home. I enjoyed the company of my fiancee and my future in-laws, kept my eyes wide open, and continued to take in as many experiences as possible (as well as spent a lot of time going through nine months of receipts, photographs, and souvenirs).

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Poznan residents stand on their balcony to watch the public procession in honor of Corpus Christi, a national and religious holiday in Poznan. It is customary to place the Vatican flag and the Holy Mary flag outside of one’s home during this public display of faith. June 4, 2015.
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Poznan residents walk along with a procession in honor of Corpus Christi, a national and religious holiday in Poland. June 4, 2015.
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Outside of Stary Browar, one of the nicest malls I have ever visited (and I am not an avid shopper). In 2005, this mall won a prize for being the “Best Shopping Center in the World in the medium-sized commercial buildings category.” June 5, 2015.
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Some lovely lights illuminating the late night sky. June 5, 2015.