Noela Roibás is a photojournalist from Galicia, Spain, currently living and working in London. Her project Irmá is centred around the relationship with her sister, Sara, who is affected by Cri du Chat syndrome, a rare congenital disease. Photography has always bound the sisters together as way for them to bond, with Sara as the subject and Noela as the photographer. This life long project has become a way for the sisters to interact and understand each other’s worlds, using the camera as a toy, but the photographs as memories.
“It’s hot and the bedroom window is open. The sound of gulls nesting on the roof reminds me that I’m home. Childhood memories pop into my head, when we played at her being my model and me her photographer. Years later, I watch her again and the glass of the lens filters reality. As she looks at me closely, the playful light drawing planets on her face. I touch her nose with my index finger slowly, intermittently. That is my way of hypnotising her and she lets me. I cannot help but wonder what the world she lives in is like and whether she’s also frightened.”
What was your relationship like as younger siblings? How did you feel towards your sister?
At that time, and also sometimes now, it feels frustrating and stressful. I love her so much, of course, but the situation makes our relationship complicated. Communication is really hard with her and sometimes she gets mentally blocked and it becomes impossible to get through to her. We’re all able to deal with it better now but when I was little it wasn’t easy to understand the situation.
How did you begin to photograph Sara as a child? What was and is her reaction to being photographed?
When we were younger it was really hard to play with her. There was pressure from my parents to spend time with her but she wasn’t able to focus her attention on games and she used to just destroy everything. When I got my first camera for my birthday I started photographing my own world and Sara was a big part of it. I was around 10 at that time and she was 4. She loved it. She is quite smug so she loved to model. I used to make her up and dress her in my own clothes. She was really excited every time we had a photo session and I enjoyed it a lot too. Photographing her became a habit and enabled us to share really good times, all thanks to photography.
The photographs are very tender and soft documentations of daily life. How comfortable are both Sara and your family with this way of working?
Sara is always happy to be photographed. She also loves to look at the photographs and check if she looks good or not. My parents found it difficult at the beginning because they had no idea of what it was that I wanted to do, but as soon as they saw the pictures they were OK. It is not a work about my sister’s syndrome, just a game between she and I, so I intentionally hide some images.
Which is your favourite photograph and why?
I like the one where she is diving on the ocean. Sara loves being in the water and she learnt how to float and “swim” naturally, which is really curious because she is really clumsy.
How do you think using photography as a way of interacting has affected your relationship?
It definitely brought us closer. Sara is sometimes hard to handle, so when photography is involved, I don’t know how to explain it… she is in, it feels like she is there with me. And also, because we both have fun taking pictures, it means that we spend quality time together.
Has photographing Sara given you any resolution about the way you’ve felt towards her?
No, I don’t think so. I think my feelings about her change over time, the same time as I change. Photographing her is a way to connect with her and to have some fun. Now, as time passes, it’s a way to get closers into her world, even when I know that I can’t.