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    Posted December 9, 2013 by
    Ieud, Romania
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    Disappearing Cultures. Folk Costumes of Maramures. Romania © Nora De Angelli/

    ‘A biblical landscape’, ‘a land that time forgot’ and ‘a step back in time to a medieval rural life’, Maramures is a magical place with ancient traditions and superstitions spanning the centuries.
    According to the journalist Lori Montgomery of the Detroit Free Press, Maramures is ‘one of the last places on the continent where peasants still cut hay with scythes, wash clothes on rocks in rushing rivers, travel rutted roads in horse carts and wear pointy, homemade leather shoes (opinci).’ (Montgomery 1997)
    The purpose of my photojournalistic story about Maramures was to show the everyday life of the peasant farmers living in this region and bear witness to some of the disappearing traditions of the authentic village life, in order to bring them to a modern audience and help preserve them for the future, for it is fast disappearing.

    My primary interest was to find a region where people were still proud of their cultural heritage and where aspects of traditional peasant lifestyles like ancestral crafts, subsistence farming, traditional costumes, or folk dancing still existed, as Reinhard Wenskus wrote: ‘… he plants the fields and raises cattle… he produces his bounty [as an] autonomous economic entity… the cultivation takes place with the aid of a plough…the peasant works his plot of land by himself… [he] participates personally in work and is assisted by family members and domestics.’

    The Maramureseni, the natives of Maramures, live each day according to the weather and the cycles of the year, maintaining a constant contact with the rhythms of nature within which humanity evolved.

    ‘Our land has a voice of its own which the peasant hears and understands. It is this sacred and inspiring land that has shaped our body and our soul, and – through its sun and its rivers and its plains – has endowed us with all the good qualities and the shortcomings we today display to the world.’ (Liviu Rebreanu, excerpt from In Praise of the Romanian Peasant)

    My early research reported that the Maramureseni were “mountain folk -vigorous, hardy and clannish, intolerant of fools but generous to a fault. They pride themselves on their pure lineage from the Dacians, the late Iron Age people who lived in [the Carpathian valleys] before the Romans invaded." (Juler 1997). Maramures is also a place where the people still preserve their religious traditions and the church has a very powerful influence.

    As a photographer, in order to produce successful images, I always have to establish a real trust and respect with my subjects. In order to capture the true essence of a person on camera, their dignity and honour, firstly there must be a mutual respect and empathy established between us. And so, before starting to photograph the place and the people, I introduced myself to many of them, saying I wanted to write a story about Maramures. They seemed happy to hear that I had a real interest in them and very soon I discovered that they actually loved being photographed.

    ‘But neither the poverty nor the modern ways interest me as a photographer. What fascinates and sustains me are these independent mountain people who give of themselves honestly and openly. They do not wear the masks so many of us show the photographer’s lens, they are secure in who they are.’ (Shelby Lee Adams, quoted in Appalachian Legacy)

    Using an approach similar to visual anthropology, my photographs explore many facets of the lives of these peasants including folk costumes, customs, religious ceremonies, crafts and subsistence farming techniques. Individuals’ portraits add a personal dimension.
    While the images from Maramures are rooted in an unchanging past, our present is awash with alteration, which makes these scenes like gentle pools of stillness.

    Van Gogh once said, ‘in order to grow, one must be rooted in the earth.’

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