German photographer Moritz Jekat and his Japanese-American partner Maii met in Los Angeles through a dating app in 2016 — they quickly fell in love. Just a few months into the relationship they moved in together, and the following year they relocated to Germany with Maii’s now 12-year-old daughter, Sionne, sharing a small one-and-a-half bedroom apartment in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Settling into a new city as a new family was an exciting experience, but the move was shrouded by a lengthy immigration process.
Maii and Sionne faced an intrusive and time-consuming immigration process, facing a slew of questions relating to their relationship and living situation. At the same time, Jekat was completing his thesis for a degree in communication design, and decided to create a photobook about their experience, titled NON YA, an abbreviation of “none of your business”.
Combining photographs of bodies with objects and documents, NON YA attempts to visualise their unique family dynamic. “I wanted to avoid traditional family images,” says Jekat. “The way that we see family, relationships and love is something that is from this time, from this contemporary world.” Images that allude to sex and menstruation may appear out of place in a project about family, but for Jekat, it is all part of the experience. “Used tampons are part of living together,” he says.
Many of the images are still lifes, built intuitively out of balancing both everyday objects and items that have a personal significance. “I realised that how they looked reflected the emotional stages that we were in at that time,” says Jekat. These personal constructions contrast with the more legislative forms of identity presented by passports and immigration documents. “These pieces of paper tell us whether we’re Japanese, German, or American, and because of that we have certain rights. I wanted to show how this abstract concept of nationality is making our lives harder,” says Jekat. “Having people judge you for the documents you give them, it’s not a nice feeling.”
Through these varied forms of expression, NON YA pokes holes in several of the world’s oldest social constructs: family, nationality and identity. Far from a traditional family album, Jekat’s photobook is an honest portrayal of all the good, the bad, and the in-between moments; it is a contemporary visualisation of what family can be.
NON YA by Moritz Jekat, winner of the Unseen Dummy Award 2019, will be published by Uitgeverij Lecturis in spring 2020.