• October 8, 2013

Serendipity in Maramureş

Ben Fitch

I first came across Kathleen McLaughlin’s pictures of Maramureş when she joined our Your Shot photo community in June. Every morning I look through the thousands of pictures submitted by our Your Shot members in search of the most compelling images to highlight on our website.

The nostalgic and timeless quality of McLaughlin’s images initially caught my eye. Her intimate, black-and-white portraits and landscapes showed hardworking families from another land and another time, tending to giant hay bales in traditional dress.

Picture of farmers by a haystack in Maramures, Romania
Photograph by Kathleen McLaughlin

Around the same time as McLaughlin began submitting pictures to Your Shot, National Geographic magazine published a story photographed by Rena Effendi documenting life in some of the same remote Romanian villages as McLaughlin had photographed. The similarities between the two photographers’ works were striking. Life in Maramureş and its resolute villagers came to life in both McLaughlin and Effendi’s pictures, and gave viewers a look into the ancient traditions of these isolated farming communities many may have never seen or heard of.

As McLaughlin continued to submit images from her work in Maramureş to Your Shot, I decided to explore her work further, especially curious as to whether she might have been shooting in Romania around the same time Effendi was on assignment for National Geographic in the same region. In the end, I found there to be more in common between the two photographers than I would have expected, a serendipitous connection that made the world feel smaller.

The whole Borca family, from Breb, puts finishing touches on one of the 40 haystacks it makes each summer.
Photograph by Rena Effendi
After a funeral, mourners return to the deceased’s home for a feast in Valeni, Maramures.
Photograph by Kathleen McLaughlin

Effendi explained: “While I was on assignment for Nat Geo in Romania I first went to the region of Miercurea Ciuc … It was a nice area and the people were wonderful, but while I was there for about a week, I felt that photographically it was not working out. A lot was missing picture-wise … I was looking for a more pristine, medieval landscape in Europe and I heard that it was still preserved somewhere in Transylvania. So I decided to look for a different location. I was feeling a bit desperate for having started my assignment in the wrong place, so I literally googled two words: Transylvania Hay. And Kathleen’s book and her work on Maramureş came up in the search. So I wrote her immediately and she was kind enough to respond and confirm my expectations that what I am looking for actually exists in Maramureş, a more remote and isolated area in the Carpathian Mountains … I was happy and lucky to have found Maramureş through Kathleen’s eyes. Although I never worked with Kathleen and never met her personally, while I was travelling around small villages in Maramureş, I kept bumping into people who had known Kathleen (she had spent a few years in the area). People there are very hospitable and do not forget their visitors, especially those who come back.”

In her parents’ house in Budești, Ileana Borodi, 24, minds her baby son, Ioan, nine months, while her daughter, Mărioara, three, occupies herself. Elderly family members often stay in older wooden houses, where walls are hand-painted with flowery designs. Younger people usually live nearby in modern homes built of brick and concrete, easier to heat and keep clean.
Photograph by Rena Effendi
While the birthing mother stands, a family pulls out the steaming calf with the help of towels twined around its hooves in Sarbi, Maramureş. It will stay with its mother for a few hours, then be fed the rest of its life by her owner as a way of insuring there is enough milk left for the family’s needs.
Photograph by Kathleen McLaughlin

McLaughlin said she receives several emails a year from people hoping to experience Maramureş in the way she has, and when she first heard from Effendi she felt it was important for her to support another woman photographer on a significant job by sharing her resources and knowledge. McLaughlin said: “Upon seeing Rena’s images, I felt immediately familiar with the people and places. Her images captured the spirit of the area truthfully and I could almost smell them. It’s like that for anyone who knows a place well. Of course I was impressed with her images and loved the way she uses light. I thought her images showed the family unit lovingly and how it takes a family to work the fields. I was also impressed with the number of villages she was able to visit! Many of them my favorite.”

On the evening hillside outside Breb, alfalfa stacks stand sentinel. The roots of Transylvania go back at least a thousand years. The farming way of life will continue only if it is treasured and nurtured by the villagers and seen by Romania and the European Union as worth sustaining.
Photograph by Rena Effendi
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, families all over the villages harvest their pigs.  Ileana and her sister Maria clean the eye sockets of Ileana’s pig while their neighbor Maria appraises its weight.
Photograph by Kathleen McLaughlin

McLaughlin will be returning to Maramureş next week to continue a project with a peasant photographer named Vasile, from the village of Breb, whom she met on her first visit to the area in 1999. “Together we’ll select images from his and my archives and rephotograph the homes that have drastically changed. Currently the trend in these villages is to build a large cement block house and paint it bright yellow, rose, or aqua.”

See more of McLaughlin’s photographs on Your Shot and on her website.  Effendi’s work can be seen on her website.

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There are 24 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Andreea
    February 10, 2015

    Beautiful article and lovely pictures.
    There are some places that a tourist must see not only with his eyes but also with his soul and Maramures is, undoubtedly, a region that has conquered the hearts of thousands of tourists. No wonder Breb village from Maramures has conquered the heart of Prince Charles who bought here some traditional houses. (Source: http://www.rolandia.eu/authentic-maramures-breb-village/ )

  2. stenner axel
    March 16, 2014

    Maramures is my home and you are welcome is the place to be

  3. Bogdan
    December 19, 2013

    I was to Maramures first time a couple of months ago and absolutely incredible beautiful. If you like simply and nature, Maramu is the place to bee. I not all concrete in bright colors, at least not yet. PS. I’m from Cluj, also a nice place to visit 🙂

  4. maria cristina irurita
    October 26, 2013

    En un mundo globalizado…la fotografía es reflexión, belleza y arte…

  5. Renu Dhingra
    October 22, 2013

    amazing pictures hard to imagine life can be so peaceful and beautiful

  6. Helen
    October 21, 2013

    Very interested to see how so little some things have changed in some places since the revolution 24 years ago. When myself and 2 friends travelled through Romania to a small town called Moreni just after the revolution our enduring image was one of fields and scenes like these – we likened them to Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.

  7. peterk
    October 20, 2013

    Wish you were there! All these pictures are nice and fine, well, really fine, but there’s nothing like being there, and I was lucky enough to travel a lot through Romania, Maramuresh included!. Do it if you can, and, believe me, you won’t regret. No Bucharest, no South and East. South-West (Banat), West and North (Transilvania and Bucovina, with Maramuresh as part of Transilvania).

  8. Anna
    October 19, 2013

    It ia a beautiful area of Romania with very kind people.

  9. Mihai
    October 15, 2013

    About Maramures and the Balkans, the romanians living in the south of the country consider themselves as part of the Balkans while the romanians in the north do not.

  10. Bibi_TM
    October 15, 2013

    Fraticilor, bagati un Maramures stropit si cu ceva horinca si pun ramasag ca o sa mai vreti!

  11. Kerri J
    October 10, 2013

    thank you for this story and photographs. This is on my list of “to see” as I just returned from a two week vacation in Transylvania and was able to see just so much. There is so much unspoiled beauty in Romania and I pray it remains that way. I see many more visits looming in my future…especially since I will soon be saying “I Do” to somebody that has family there, and family is So very important in the Romanian culture, as was shown here.

  12. Lisa Pajolek
    October 10, 2013

    Incredible Ben! The pictures tell us about a time gone by. Great job! Xo Lisa

  13. Oswald Das
    October 9, 2013

    Great pictures especially the ones of the Romanian farmers and rural landscape.

  14. Another Romanian
    October 9, 2013

    @ebo: “more bigger” is incorrect, but “a romanian” is not a philologist (I hope!), while National GEOGRAPHIC (I have no bold, so I use CAPS) is – among other things – about geography.

    @NaHyun: “rephotograph the homes that have drastically changed. Currently the trend in these villages is to build a large cement block house and paint it bright yellow, rose, or aqua” … that’s a sign that they met Capitalism.

    Thanks for the post. It feels good to know that “good old days” are not forever gone.

  15. Nico
    October 9, 2013

    Except for the three old women around the sacrificed pig, that have only traditional ˝sokcks˝ and ˝shoes˝ , no one is wearing traditional clothes.
    For traditonal clothes see here the first two rows : https://www.google.cz/search?q=port+popular+maramuresan&client=ubuntu&hs=nGf&channel=fs&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=hZ5VUvvKEcKytAbZpIC4BQ&ved=0CDIQsAQ&biw=1366&bih=581&dpr=1

  16. naomi wentz
    October 9, 2013

    I really liked these pictures but I found the black and white ones to be more infatic and possess a deeper meaning

  17. NaHyun
    October 9, 2013

    Is this really pictures taken from this era? It is so wonderful… I hope they never meet Capitalism… I love the diversity in cultures. I love their clothes and their way of life.

  18. Eric
    October 9, 2013

    I love these photos. Very interesting!

  19. prakash
    October 9, 2013

    simply great , and if u r really looking for camera phone then its LUMIA 1020, PLS try it

  20. raluca
    October 9, 2013

    Thank you for this amazing pictures!

  21. albert
    October 8, 2013

    am and islander so great to see life in old days much better living on cement village

  22. Ebo
    October 8, 2013

    Umm someone who says “more bigger” shouldn’t be judging it correcting anyone.

  23. a romanian
    October 8, 2013

    ERRATUM: Maramures county is in the very heart of Carpathian mountains, not in Balkan, as you say. Balkans are far away from Maramures. I have more bigger expectations from an NatGeo employee.

    • Ben Fitch
      October 8, 2013

      Thanks for your note! We’ve corrected the error within the story.

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