Holga Photo Blog: Capturing Our Mothers' Stories - Women's Foundation California

“Growing up, hearing my mom’s stories, I never ever thought that we would have the same experience because we did not get along at all. But from hearing her stories, it made me realize how much we are alike in our life experiences, which makes me feel like I can relate to and understand her more. A mother knows her daughter best.”


Every spring, Banteay Srei* (Bahn-tea-ay Suh-ray) gives its members Holga cameras for a storytelling and documentary project (funded in part by the Women’s Foundation of California). Holga is a plastic toy film camera that has become popular because it is simple to use and produces photographs that have dreamy, surreal, and ethereal qualities. Technically imperfect, the vivid images feature blurs and overexposed areas. Limited zoom forces the photographer to get up close to the subject. Manual control allows the photographer to play with multiple exposures and long exposure times.

Holga cameras embrace random results and celebrate imperfections, a perfect tool for embracing the surprises and imperfections of family histories. Banteay Srei members conducted interviews and used Holga cameras to depict their family member’s oral history. Just as the Holga camera sees the world around us in an entirely different way, Banteay Srei members connected in a new way with their mothers and elders through asking about and listening to their histories.  The stories their photos capture are both heartbreaking and inspiring.

In “The Dawn of a New Strength”, Nhuanh was inspired by her mother’s courage and resiliency after hearing her mother’s story of escaping her home country, “We didn’t tell anyone. […] We didn’t pack anything. I left empty-handed, no clothes, nothing. Just carried my baby in my arms…and got into the boat. I wasn’t scared because I didn’t want to live under the communist regime. So I just left. […] If I didn’t have this experience, I wouldn’t be so strong.”

In “Coming to America”, Chanthee reflects on the sacrifices her mother and father made to come to America from Laos, “Sometimes I think, “What if the church people never came and brought my parents to the US? How would my lifestyle be like?”

In “Single”, Maria represents her mother’s strength and courage as a single mother, “this bird reminds me of my mom, a strong, independent, single mother. She raised three kids on her own. Everything she did was for us.”

MaLenaa playfully uses multiple exposures to represent her mother’s sage advice in “Family, Friends, Education, Money, and Life”: “I remember my mom told me that whenever she went to school, she always used to play at the play structures with other people. She said that I should take advantage of learning in school, because school used to cost money and not be free. She didn’t really have struggles back when she was younger, but she would still want to see me go to school, do good, and accomplish more than any of my family members did.”

In the San Francisco Bay area? Stop by Berkeley’s Saturn Cafe and check out the rest of the photographs at Banteay Srei’s Holga table, available through the end of the year.

Contact Banteay Srei for more information on the Holga gallery and all 13 photographs, including opportunities to show the exhibit.

*Banteay Srei is a grant partner of the Women’s Foundation of California. The organization is dedicated to providing the tools and support necessary for young Southeast Asian women and girls to empower themselves. Based in Oakland, Banteay Srei works with young women and girls ages 14-19 that are at-risk of or have been sexually exploited.

This work is powered by you.

The feminist future we are building together in California is going to be built by all of us sharing our time, our money, and our skills.  Please consider contributing today.

Together We Are Unstoppable.

Sign up here to join our mailing list and receive updates about our programs, partnerships, and more!