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Serendipity in Maramureş

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.

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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.

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Photograph by Rena Effendi
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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.”

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Photograph by Rena Effendi
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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.”

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Photograph by Rena Effendi
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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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