Photographer: ‘What does it mean to be American?’: Eyes on Main Street artist returns to Wilson

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As a teenager, Roza Vulf dreamed of coming to America.

“I was living in Vilnius, Lithuania in the Soviet Union and the United States was my dream with all of the freedom and democracy,” she said. “You can be whatever you want to be.”

Vulf was the artist-in-residence for the Eyes on Main Street Outdoor Photo Festival in May. She returned to Wilson during the last week to make additional portraits for her project.

“For me to come to Wilson, it was very special,” Vulf said. “I have been the United States a couple of times before I came to Wilson but it was just to New York and San Francisco.”

Vulf said coming to a small town in the South was a terrific experience.

“It was very exciting to see a kind of real America, if you can say so, a small town and something in the middle of everything,” Vulf said. “It has such a deep history. The South has a lot of history. So I took this opportunity with big pleasure and I was actually blown away in this town.”

“People make the places. I met wonderful people here, absolutely incredible people,” Vulf said. “I went through incredible life experience. It’s not just photography experience.”

Vulf got interested in photography as a teenager when she spent six months as a newspaper intern.

“I loved photography, always,” Vulf said. “I had my Smena and Zenit small Russian cameras.”

Her interest soon faded when she was married, had children and was busy earning a living. Years later, after moving to Rome, Italy, she rekindled her passion for photography.

“First of all, I love art. Photography is art for me,” Vulf said. “I love art in general. Maybe I have that urge to express myself somehow. This is exactly the medium I am comfortable with. The camera was always with me. I was not shooting in a serious way, but I was always shooting, children and travels. I realized I need to learn.”

Vulf found Southern hospitality in Wilson.

“People were opening up their doors to me and opening up their houses to me,” Vulf said. “They were inviting me. I was interested to understand.”

“Being a foreigner I wanted to understand: What does it mean to be American? That was my question,” Vulf said. “I was amazed. Americans, you love your country, it’s wonderful. It’s honorable. Here, they say ‘I love my country. It’s freedom. I love my country. Democracy. No matter what, I love my country.’ People from different social backgrounds and different age groups, you all love your country. This is just so admirable for me. For me it was very, important for me to understand.”

Vulf’s photography can be viewed at www.rozavulf.com. Her Wilson photos are in the editing process but will be posted on the website in the near future.