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Aga Luczakowska & Davin Ellicson
Maramures – A Transition
Surrounded by a fortress of mountains and never collectivized by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the Maramures region of northern Romania has preserved folk culture in a state of almost medieval isolation. Until recently, villagers had not been molded by materialism or Western ways. A critical turning point was reached, however, with Romania’s accession to the European Union in 2007. Youth are choosing money over preserving traditions, and there has been a mass exodus from the villages to Western Europe. A centuries-old way of life is being cast out. Wooden folk architecture is disappearing in record amounts and cement villas are taking their place along with modern conveniences.
We first became transfixed with Maramures when we met the Nemes family as they were finishing a haystack one evening at the end of the summer. Returning to the village of Valeni several times to photograph agrarian life, ancient festivals and traditional religious ceremonies, we joined in and made haystacks with them, helped tether horses to carts and drank warm milk straight from the cow. A sacred connection exists between the people of Maramures and the earth that has not survived in the modern world. While some view peasant life as primitive, we see it as magical. We want to document life in the village at this moment when the pace of change is rapidly increasing.
Our intent is to return together in each of the seasons over the coming year to photograph village youth upon their return from working abroad. Modernity is mixing with 18th century village life in unusual ways. A second part of our project will be to digitize historical photographs of traditional peasant life and rescue them from almost certain obscurity. These found images will be combined with our reportage work of contemporary life to form a comprehensive visual document. By illuminating traditional European folk culture on the brink of extinction, our project engages with pivotal issues of our time and seeks to draw attention to a rich cultural heritage that globalization threatens.
In 2005, Aga graduated from the University of Silesia with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management and Protection. She studied photography with Gerd Ludwig at The Eddie Adams Workshop in 2007 and with Stanley Greene at Masterclass Focus on Monferrato 2008. In 2006, Aga worked as staff photographer for the Polish daily newspaper “Dziennik Zachodni” and worked in The Polish State Archives digitizing files from 2008-2009. This year Aga moved to Bucharest to devote herself full time again to photography. Recently, she won second place in the Southeast Europe Photo competition sponsored by the EU.
Davin graduated from Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota with a BA in Modern European History in 2001 and received an MA in Documentary Photography from The London College of Communication in 2006. He has photographed in Romania since 2002 and moved to Bucharest in 2008. Davin’s work has appeared in The New York Times and Der Spiegel among others and he won the 2009 Portfolio Award at The Phodar Photography Biennial and honorable mentions in Jen Bekman´s Hey! Hot Shot in 2008 and 2009.