Photo Diary * Maya Wali Richardson
Maya Wali Richardson is an art and documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. Being of mixed Indian and white descent and growing up in both rural and urban environments, her work explores existing within the liminal spaces between cultures, places, and identities.
Years ago, my family tasked me with transcribing a box of letters my grandparents had written to each other. Most came from the four years in which my dada (grandfather) first immigrated to the U.S., leaving behind my nani (grandmother), pregnant and with two young daughters in Varanasi, India. I was immersed in their great lines of romance, as well as the mundane lists of items my dada wanted sent to him from back home; tongue scrapers, for example, were not all the rage in the States in the 50’s. I knew I eventually wanted to do a project that shared the lives they forged for themselves, my mother, and my aunts in a turbulent America, a place incomprehensibly different from their homeland.
I planned on beginning it in April 2021 after having been separated from my grandparents throughout the pandemic, but two days before I arrived to their home in Syracuse, New York my nani died. What was meant to be a photo series of them nearing their 70th wedding anniversary quickly transformed into a project documenting dada in the wake of loss. As a processing of my own grief, and to escape the chaos of a household after death, I set up a studio in their basement and photographed the many deity figurines they collected against a backdrop of my nani’s saris.
These photographs are part of a book I am working on that portrays the immense life my grandparents had together and delves into aging, dying, and grief.