These photos were taken on the occasion of my grandfather's 80th birthday in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up in New York, almost 900 miles from Atlanta, where the rest of my family is from, has endowed me with a sense of alienation.
During the Depression Era, my grandparents' families left Georgia in favor of northern industrial cities like New York and Detroit, not unlike many other African-American families from that time who made the long journey to the North in search of economic stability and equality. In the early '80s, a job opportunity at Georgia State University and the idea of a "new South" devoid of racism propelled my grandparents' decision to return to the suburbs of Atlanta with my mother and her elder brother.
Both my mother and grandfather are artists. In the past I have been hesitant to take out my camera at family events because I don't want to be perceived as blindly following in their footsteps. I am young and still learning where my interests lie; I am unsure if I think of myself as an artist. But this was a special event, and recording it was more important than people's perceptions of me, even if they are my family.
Aside from wanting to document the achievement of my grandfather making it to 80 years old, this project was driven by the feeling of isolation that comes simply from being physically distant from those you love. Through these images, I am trying to understand my place within this cast of characters, beyond the one created by blood.
Octavia Bürgel is 18 years old and a first-year student at Oberlin College.