A girl on a beach from a postcard

A collaborative photo project reclaims lost moments in time

October 10, 2023

Research & Innovation

A blurry photograph of a mother and two children on a beach recalls Lila Quintero-Weaver’s journeys to Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the 1960s. In a tiny hotel room, with only two double beds for a family of six, she and her little brother slept on the floor on top of a pallet. Still, for her, Dauphin Island was paradise.

“There, I learned to jump ocean waves, build sandcastles, and turn as brown as a slice of breakfast toast,” she wrote in the accompanying text for the photo. The image appears in a growing Instagram gallery, curated by University of Richmond professor Karina Vázquez and her students.

Vázquez, the director of Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies Community Based Learning, began the site, @the.other.vacations, in Fall 2022. An open call for images will run through Spring 2025, with contributions from the public as well as students in her Spanish and Community classes each semester.

The photos provide a window into issues of gender, race, class, travel, and leisure time, Vázquez said.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Vazquez realized that, like many immigrants, vacation travel meant going back home to see family. The online pictures help to collect and tell some of the stories of families like hers.

“Our photographs are as scattered as our families are,” she said. “I saw in them an opportunity to explore the intersection between private histories and public history.

Vacations are rare for some immigrant families, who often work long hours for little pay. For such families, she said, a leisure destination is one that you can drive to and back on the weekend.

As part of the class, students create collages using their own or archival family photographs.

Sophomore Emily Daniel’s collage includes an archival photo of a woman named Juana Gallego, who every year would travel from San Antonio to see her mother and friends in her hometown of Matehuala, Mexico. Gallego and her family are all dressed in white, surrounded by tropical foliage. The image is set against a map of Mexico, showing the national railroad lines in the 1920s and 1930s, the time of the photograph, and a photo of a train.

“Juana Gallego's story makes us wonder what we usually consider a vacation, especially in the case of immigrants,” Daniel writes. “For her, traveling was staying connected despite the border.”

A Polaroid photograph of a Guatemalan girl wearing a rain poncho at Niagara Falls is the centerpiece of junior Carmen Ovalle’s collage. The photograph is of her mother, and along with it is a picture of tumultuous waves and a stamp from Guatemala. Ovalle notes that postage stamps were released in that country in 1868.

“Thanks to stamps, people were able to know the status of their loved ones before cell phones and the internet,” Ovalle said. “The stamp was able to connect a girl visiting the Niagara Falls to her family in Guatemala.”

The exhibit engages viewers by combining the images with brief sketches that invite them to connect with those experiences, Vázquez said.

While some of the stories of the people in the photographs are known, others are lost to time. Their stories are recreated by the students, using clues from the photos and history.

“By connecting the present to the past, that allows us to construct new meanings,” she said. “It is a visualization of the intangible.”