The “Pride and Concrete” project is able to catch the sufletul romanesc, the Romanian spirit: that lively mix of imagination, empathy, and a shade of melancholy. In 2010 freelance photographer Petrut Calinescu and Ioana Hodoiu set out North to the țară, the countryside, to document a local phenomenon involving social, cultural and economic aspects. Their intention was to witness a recurring pattern in remote rural areas of the country: the building of white elephant houses by returning emigrants proud to show off after a lifetime abroad. Numbers suggest it is a large scale phenomen. Out of the almost five million people who over the last two decades have been emigrating Westward to seek better life opportunities, most come from the poorest Northern regions in the country such as Maramureș, Moldova and Bucovina. They emigrated mostly to France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia and more recently to the UK, often experiencing different forms of hardships and developing a strong sense of attachment to their left-behind families and communities. Often their dream of dreams is to come back home one day and… be able to build their fairytale house in their native villages.
The project took four years to be completed. It required a massive work of documentation and mapping, as well as – and foremost -, all the necessary stamina to get through the red tape safe and sound. Then it has been exhibited in Bucharest, London, Berlin, a very rich photographic book has also been published.
Calinescu’s photos and videos are taken in some of the most picturesque regions of the country and yet they tell us a whole different story. Sifting through village after village they reveal the impact globalization has had on values and ethos of remote rural communities. As the postcard landscape comes alive and we are made to meet real local people, we cannot but empathize with them. Calinescu observes:
The first generation dream of returning home, while the latter dream of breaking “the curse of the concrete” which forces them, according to tradition, to invest their hard-earned money in multi-floored houses in their native villages.
These big houses prevent both generations from fulfilling their dreams. Those who dream of returning home are forced to work far away from them in order to maintain them, those who dream of making a life in Paris are forced to invest all their money in finishing these houses. And, in many cases, this can last a lifetime.
And here it comes, that shade of melancholy.
The whole project: Pride and Concrete