Kathleen Laraia & H. Woods McLaughlin – The Color of Hay

Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin & H. Woods McLaughlin copyright 2010 self-published

The Color of Hay; The Peasants of Maramures is a self-published book and a collaborative project between a photographer and writer, who are also a wife and husband team. The resulting thick book is a blending of photographs and words to narrate their story about a rural region located in the Northernmost region of Transylvania, Romania. For the McLaughlin team, the decision was made to place the book’s primary emphasis on the photographs, with the writing to help establish an external context.

The book is sub-divided into many sections that attempt to describe the people of this region, such as the cultural adaptation to the seasons (The Four Corners of Life by Their own Hands); Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. There are also sections that attempt to carve out the phases of the social lifestyle (The Trappings of Life); Market, Clothes, Animals, and Food, (The Ceremonies of Life); God and Community, Weddings, Pilgrimage, and Death, and finally the phase over a lifespan (The Meaning of Life, When Life has no Meaning); Youth, Adulthood, and Old Age. It almost appears that when faced with concept options on how to frame a story, they chose an option to attempt to illustrate them all.

Their project was completed over a ten-year span and originated with a one year immersion into the region by taking up residence with a rural family. It was an attempt for an outsider to become accepted an insider, to gain access to the community’s inner social structure. There is evidence in this documentary style project that the McLaughlin’s had mixed success, with an interesting mix of stilted formal portraits in conjunction with very casual, candid and warm observations.

Although their project is focused on the investigation of a specific geographic area, the underlying story is an investigation into a closed and relatively poor ex-communist community teetering on the brink of immense cultural changes brought on byRomania’s entry into the European Common Union. The “old ways” are in the beginning stages of what may be a rapid transition into the present world economics, or at least it maybe a “rapid change” by comparison to their existing standards. The implication is the culture traditions that McLaughlin’s have documented will soon evaporate and become a fading memory.

McLaughlin’s photographs and writings capture what appears to be an established tradition which they pair these with hints of the pending contemporary lifestyle. As an example, below, a wedding reception framed within a small, traditional house while the bride demurely sneaking a peek at a cell phone. Sometimes the photographs on facing pages are a blatant “before and after” or a study of a culture in collision with itself, but in a way consistent with the explanatory writing style, providing a National Geographic flavor to this book.

Their book has incorporated some interesting and contemporary photographic layout designs; a mixing of photographs farmed with classic margins, full bleeds, two page spreads, mixing and mashing these designs, in conjunction with a blend of two photographic mediums, utilizing both color and black & white photographs. The mixing of the color with the black & white photographs infers a mix of the lyrical representational with the objective viewpoints, and although contemporary, can make the book more daunting task to pull together as a cohesive whole. The result of this edgy design is that the continuous changing formats imbue a subtle tension and energy to the flow of images, although it is not always apparent to me as to why some photographs were color while others were black & white.

The book object: Hardcover with image wrap cover beautifully printed with both the color and black & white photographs fully detailed and the black and white images have a full range of tonal contrast. Book pages are numbered with an end section that provides a descriptive caption for each photograph.

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