Lens: In Venezuela, Empty Rooms Tell Stories

Photographs reveal the still-intact living quarters of those who left following the country’s political chaos and economic collapse.

The room of Gabriela Contreras, 23, who went to Santiago, Chile. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti

Venezuela has fallen silent, ostensibly desolate.

“It seems empty,” the photographer Mariana Vincenti said. “Everywhere you go — in the streets, in the classrooms, everywhere.”

It was this stark quiet that drew her to explore the great migration out of Venezuela. The country’s political chaos and economic collapse have turned some cities into ghost towns. Stores are empty; homes are left fully furnished as if someone had just run out to pick up milk.

The room of Filomena Di Martino, 18, who left for Tenerife, Spain, to pursue a career in the arts. Caracas, Venezuela, 2017.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of Mireya Roso, 57, who went to Argentina to find economic stability. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of the photographer, Mariana Vincenti, 28, who went to the United States to study photojournalism. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti

“My room is particular, I made it my own, but the things that make it my space are not the things you would take with you if you’re moving to another country,” she said. “You only have 23 pounds. What do you decide to take with you? What are the things you’re going to need?”

A note left by Ricardo de Ascencao, 25: “To my dad and uncle Roberto, toast and think of me because I’ll be thinking of you!! I love you.” Caracas, Venezuela, 2017.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of Veronica De Ascencao, 27, who went to Ireland after her brother helped her with the tickets and with finding a job. Caracas, Venezuela, 2017.CreditMariana Vincenti
Photos of Lena Martin’s children. Their grandparents still live in the house and are not planning to leave. Caracas, Venezuela, 2017.CreditMariana Vincenti

In Venezuela, most young people live with their parents until they are married, so the rooms she visited were packed with memories.

“Your room holds what you are, and what you don’t take away when you leave,” Ms. Vincenti said. “I’m still there. It was a reminder that, like me, there were millions of rooms in Venezuela that people left. Families are still living in those houses and have to see that empty space every day.”

Together with Ms. Pedicini, the two set out to find different types of rooms and stories across Caracas, with Ms. Vincenti photographing and Ms. Pedicini interviewing families.

“We saw how they coped with loss, how they were navigating this,” Ms. Vincenti said. One mother they met was Elisa Martinez, whose son Jorge Badra left Venezuela for Madrid. She was an immigrant from Cuba who fled the dictatorship there. She and her husband built a big, beautiful house for their sons, Ms. Vincenti recounted, with the idea that the house could be a home for future generations of the family.

“And then she is the one who encouraged her older son to leave,” Ms. Vincenti said. As a lawyer, he had better opportunities elsewhere. “She was a heart divided.”

The room of Danuvis Padrón, 49, and Carlos Lino, 44, who went to Tenerife, Spain, to escape the crime in Venezuela. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of Jose Badra, 30, who went to Madrid after losing his job. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
Room of Andrea Moreno Brana, 24, who went to Granada, Spain with her boyfrend. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti

In composing her photographs, Ms. Vincenti aimed to make a portrait of the person through his or her space.

“I tried to find the essence of who the migrant was, find their story and their reasons for living, through the things they chose to leave behind,” she said.

The room of Diana Valentina Pérez, 20, who went to Buenos Aires after the wave of violent protests of 2017. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of Alejandra Sucre, 30, who first went to Panama and then to Argentina. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
The room of Azorena Aponte, 61, and her wife, Josefina Bruni Celli, 57. They went to the United States looking for a better life. Both of them lived previously in New York but decided to go back to Venezuela, and they lived there until the economic situation, crime and food shortages became untenable. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti
The home of Vanessa Pérez, 36, and Fabiola La Corte, 45. One went to the United States, the other to Spain, after their mother died. Caracas, Venezuela, 2018.CreditMariana Vincenti