The images and text below come from the soon to be published book (limited print run) of photo journalist Chiara Ceolin – www.chiaraceolin.com . Titled Neverland: Bodesti, Romania the book looks into the experiences of the photographer while she stayed briefly in the town of that name in Romania. The book, as the introduction by a Samuel Jones explains (see text below), looks into the “Lost Generation” of the town as caused by a mass emigration in search for employment in the wealthier western Europe.
Ms Ceolin, a close chum of mine, originally hailing from Milan via Turin and now residing in West London, spent several years working as a psychologist, before realising her dream and pursuing a career in photography. An exhibition of her latest work (along with other stalwart professionals) can be seen from 11 to 13 September at the P3 Gallery, University of Westminster. For more information, see www.crossingcurrents.co.uk
All photographs and introduction re-produced with kind permission of Chiara Ceolin (c).
“Each artist seems.to be the native of an unknown country”
Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu
My first experience of Romania came through the streets of a summer scorched Bucharest, a boulevard rich town with wild snarling dogs and an absent population. It was not an enriching experience, and my travel notes from that stay shriek with a melancholic madness that I thought was symptomatic for the whole country.
To judge a country by its city is the worst of follies, and the casual visitor should never allow first impressions to misshapen their view of a land different and strange.
Chiara Ceolin with her portrait of life in Bodesti, Neverland does not suffer from such misconceptions, and through her images opens our eyes to a side of Romania that is frequently not seen and often ignored. Her portrait of this rapidly vanishing rural world of Europe – a land of pitchforks, hay stacks and rustic simplicity – initially evokes thoughts of a simpler more pastoral life, a life that is idealised in the mindset of the wealthier Western European.
However, though these images are bursting with life and vibrancy of a well worked countryside in bloom, the very bucolic nature of the setting which appeals so to the western European eye is also the cause for much distress. Here both young and old are stuck in an unmoving landscape, while the rest of the world moves on. Bodesti remains in an altogether earlier era to what we know, with only the bare hints of the modern world creeping in through the jeans of the youths and medicine bottles of the old.
Where is the bridge generation that would introduce the new age? What is the cost of their absence on the town? Theirs is a lost generation in Neverland that is conspicuous by its absence. We see the awkward interaction between the generations epitomised by the photo of a young man walking tall and straight while his grandmother seeks to put her arm around him – there is a gap and lack of understanding that can only be understood through the medium of the missing generation.
This is not a generation lost through war or sickness, rather it is a generation that has disappeared due to the state of a country crippled by unemployment. Bodesti is a town of 5,000 that has seen over a 1,000 of its population forced to abandon home and above all family, for the uncertain and ill-paid work in the wealthier EU members.
Chiara Ceolin traces an apprehensive snapshot of a Romania struggling with the exodus of one generation and the uncertain future for the next, and presents the picture of what life means for those left behind. A young girl talks to her absent parents on the telephone, hunched and intent on the call; the young man, who opens and closes the book, stares pensively into the distance, near and far; two old men work to load the hay cart while a young girl with a broom twice her size seeks to engage and lighten the work load; the grizzled work stained hands tenderly hold the image of a grandchild born far from home, unlikely ever to be held so close as that photo; sun stained wrinkled and wearied visages peep from beneath linen headcloths: these are images of the lost boys, girls, grandfathers and mothers which Chiara Ceolin has brought to our attention.
Though Neverland speaks of sacrifice, uncertainty and loss, I cannot help but notice the lights along this tunnel of levity and joy. An old woman’s smile lights up the page as surely as the sun shines through her window; a young man, cow’s tail grasped in hand, full stride and arms wide galloping in unison across the field brings forth the very best and worst of this Eastern corner of Europe.
These are powerful images laid forth across the printed page. Images that seek to provide a positive awareness of the plight of a country and its people that is consistently regarded in the popular European press, media and the public mindset as a nation that seeks only to take from its wealthier neighbours. I hope that through these pictures and this book, eyes, which have been closed to the lives left behind of our Romanian and other migrant workforces, will begin to open and realise that these departures and arrivals have far reaching consequences that wreck and separate in ways we could never truly understand. It is easy to dismiss the concept of a people, but much more difficult to disregard an individual whose life is laid bare for your scrutiny. Chiara Ceolin, through Neverland, has revealed these people and their difficult story, and in the telling removed my blinkers – may she do the same for you too.