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The Half King in New York City is hosting an exhibition of Hungarian photographer Tamas Dezso’s photographs of rural Romania. Opening on August 2nd, the show is part of an ongoing series of exhibitions and intimate opening night discussions with a featured photographer. Dezso’s tableaux are an enchanting take on a gritty, time-forgotten reality. The lush images suggest settings for mythical tales where the demigods and fantastical creatures have fled the scene. Dezso: “There is historical resentment between the nations of Hungary and Romania over the possession of Transylvania. I had the naive idea of bringing the people of both nations closer together through photography. And I also wanted to document and thus preserve the unique rural part of Romania on the verge of disappearance.”

Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag: “We began to see the first pointy haystacks that are characteristic of rural Romania. I have never seen haystacks like these anywhere in the world, and I watch for them. There are countless popular sayings involving haystacks. ‘Timişoara,’ someone told me, ‘was the spark over a very dry haystack.’ With snow on them they looked like the peasants’ lambskin hats. They are baled by hand by young people who work singing until way past dusk on long summer days. When the stars come out, they fall exhausted on the hay, and many romances begin that way. By winter the romancers have married, and the hungry cows eat the snowy hay. In the days of the Turkish occupation highwaymen used to hide in the haystacks from the Turkish patrols, which would stab the haystacks at random to see if anyone was there. Angry fathers whose daughters hadn’t come home for supper would likewise pitchfork their stacks. Many a curious scar, called the love fork, adorned the young men of rural Romania. I had always loved the touchingly tender way the Romanian haystacks dot the fields, a kind of writing legible only to crows.”

Dezso: “Romanian orthodox nuns attend the Sunday religious service near Caianu. These nuns were heavily involved in social work providing food and clothing for those deeply in need. Their order owned a single car with which they randomly entered extremely dangerous, poor gypsy villages at night to throw out packages containing supplies. They did not even stop the car or else they probably would have been attacked.”

Donnica Garleuleb of Damuc village, central Romania, stares through the unkempt plants sown by herself in the family’s garden. Everyday, from her house window Donnica watches the gradual decline of the garden, once installed for her children. The children have left some years ago for work in Germany, like many others from the region.

Car approaching Reghiu village through the riverbed after the floods washed away the bridge of the only road leading to the village. A string of floods hit some two-thirds of Romania’s territory in 2005.

Locals at the village Calvini feast in the tent put up in the rectory’s garden on the day of St. Nicholas, the major patron saint of the Orthodox Church.

Dezso: “Boys kickboxing on the main street of Buzescu. The gypsy community created a bizarre cityscape here. They erect pompous buildings to show off their wealth, many of which stand uninhabited afterwards. As I entered the village the two guys stopped kickboxing when they saw me approaching with a camera in hand. I had to ask them to continue what they were doing before we arrived. In most parts of Romania the Gypsy population is almost always found on the periphery of the given town or city but here in Buzescu it is the opposite. Gypsies own the center of the village completely. There is a leader among the gypsies, called the Bulibasha who I had the opportunity to meet. We stumbled upon each other in front of his palace. He was wearing a tie completely made of fine gold and was excitedly awaiting the arrival of his new Bulibasha hat, which soon arrived, riding in the backseat by itself in a yellow Dacia.”

Lumberjacks rest near Sighisoara.

Dezso: “Early on a winter morning, a young boy is off to work to saw firewood for locals in Odobesti and nearby villages. This picture was taken a year before Romania’s accession into the European Union. I choose this image as the closing piece of my original Romania essay. For me this picture symbolized the road to a brighter world on which the young man sets off on, taking a last glimpse back at his home country.”

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Photographer Monika Merva is a first generation American of Hungarian descent. Speaking Hungarian and having family in Hungary proved essential in making this intimate and long term project documenting the City of Children possible. Merva tells the bittersweet story of children growing up together, removed from their own families. The City of Children in Fot is a product of the 1950′s Hungarian social welfare system, when collective solutions to private problems were emphasized. When families broke down– from conflicts, violence, neglect, etc., the City of Children was there to take them in. Parents and family members can visit, but the children live collectively under the care of adult guardians.

After being warned that getting in would be near impossible, Merva gained access to the City of Children through introductions made by a family friend. It took a full year after making her initial request to photograph at the City of Children. She was told she would be granted one day to photograph, to see if the children would accept her. Merva jumped at the chance, flying thousands of miles from New York to see if she would pass the test. Upon arriving, she was assigned to a tough girl who gradually softened up, and who then introduced her to other children. The adult guardians agreed to let Merva stay for four more days. She photographed day and night for the next four days. She returned the following year with portraits of the children, and each year after that through 2009, except in 2006 when her own child was too small to travel. Each return trip, she bought prints of the photos she had made of the children as gifts. Monika Merva’s book, City of Children was first published in the USA this spring.

Eva P, 2004. “Eva is the fourth amongst her five siblings. When we first met, I was intrigued by her beauty and personality. She was not a typical teenage girl. She played hard, running and climbing and always a bit disheveled.  When she spoke, it was always with a gentle tone and solicitous manner unusual for a person her age.”

In the Woods, 2002.

Norbi J and Csilla, 2007. “This picture was made on my last day. There was a lot of excitement over a girl wearing a hospital robe. One of the boys, Norbi, ran by me to greet her. I was so focused on their reunion that I didn’t have time to ask questions. Later I found out that Norbi had hit her in the arm, and after their fight she had tried to kill herself and was rushed to the hospital.”

Jozsi, 2004. “Jozsi is Roma. He is streetwise, angry, charismatic, and works his way into your heart. The adult guardians in the City of Children thought they had tamed his behavior. A few months after this picture was made Jozsi ran away. No one has heard from him since.”

Mariann, 2005. “Mariann is the oldest of her five siblings. When her mother was given the ultimatum of keeping her children or living with her new man, she chose the latter.”

Mobile, 2007.

Peter in Blue Socks, 2005. “Peter is the youngest in his family. They moved into the City of Children in 2004. He and his five siblings see their father once a year at Christmas. When I entered the kitchen looking for him he was perched on the radiator lost in thought.”

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