30 January 2010

Maramures: Europe's Most Traditional Rural Life in Transition

My new collaborative project with Aga Luczakowska!

The Maramures region of northern Romania is home to the most traditional rural life in Europe. In the idyllic valleys along the Ukraine border, cone shaped haystacks made with wooden pitchforks dot rolling hills and houses are without running water. Nowhere else in Europe do folk costumes persist so strongly with elaborate traditions and Romanian Orthodox ceremonies dominating village life.

For decades, Romania’s closed border policy under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu as well as a natural fortress of mountains kept Maramures isolated from the rest of Europe. Even after the fall of Communism, change was slow to enter the region.

But Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and Maramures is at last changing. Youth from the villages now spend most of their time working in Western Europe and send back thousands of euros to their families. Modern cement villas with satellite television stand where wooden peasant homes did just last year and strict EU agricultural regulations are threatening the beautiful way of life.

We are working as a team to document life in the villages at this moment when the pace of change is rapidly increasing. Our intent is to return in each of the seasons over the coming year to photograph village youth upon their return from working abroad. We will photograph all that surprises us. Modernity is mixing with 18th century village life in unusual ways.

A second part of our project will be to collect historical photographs of traditional peasant life and rescue them from almost certain obscurity. We will digitize the collages of family photographs that are often framed over religious icons and displayed on the walls of homes. These found images will be combined with our reportage work of contemporary village life to form a comprehensive visual document of Europe’s peasantry at a critical point in its history. The project will be equally of an historical, ethnographic and documentary importance.