Eastern Mirror (2012) by Tamás Hajdu is a documentary project about everyday life in Baia Mare, Romania, where Tamás lives and works. Although seemingly focused on the trivia and candid, visually striking compositions, the photographs go much deeper than that, revealing interesting social and cultural phenomena so common in Baia Mare (and probably elsewhere too) that otherwise they would go unnoticed.
‘Paint is peeling off the walls, old cars are disassembled, and disoriented dogs are walking like ghosts through the dirty snow. But let’s not envisage that everything is part of a decaying, surreal painting…
There is always somebody who can repaint a chipped wall, and through practical miracles ruined cars can be transformed into brand new ones. In short, total makeovers are still possible with a little bit of imagination.
I depict the everyday life in my Eastern European neighbourhood: bits and pieces of a decomposing existence with its highs and lows. Photographs revealing the place’s dual nature—the laissez-faire attitude complemented by a strong willingness to change its fate. Most of all, “Eastern Mirror” represents my best photos made during the past year.’
Tamás Hajdu, 2012
Although the photographer suggests in his statement that he doesn’t want to envisage the scenes around him as if belonging to a decaying, surreal painting, he seems to be drawn to both decay and surrealism all the same. After all, decay and dilapidation feature widely in his images, and quite a lot of them appear rather surreal. Is he actively seeking out these qualities or they are simply an inherent part of the surrounding landscape? Nevertheless, Tamás is not romanticising what he sees and photographs; rather, he treats his subjects and everyday life in Baia Mare with a big dose of humour and irony.
At first sight Eastern Mirror might appear as a loose collection of candid shots taken in small-town Romania. However, when considered for a longer, it becomes clear that in addition to strong composition and catching the ‘decisive moment’, Hajdu’s project reveals hidden truths about everyday life in Baia Mare and others parts of rural and small-town Eastern Europe.
Take, for example, the cover grey and yellow image of the dog and car in front of a communist block of flats. Apart from the undeniable visual strength of this image, it actually encapsulates a sad truth about life in Baia Mare. As the photographer tells us, the reason why the block of flats in the background is half grey and half yellow is because only some of the estate’s residents could afford to cover the renovation and insulation costs, thus leaving the building only half-redone.
Baia Mare – and thousands of other small towns scattered around Romania and beyond – got entangled in this peculiar web of past and future. The locals still stand by their traditions and maintain the old ways. At the same time, however, their everyday lives and neighborhoods are undergoing major transformations, here humorously embodied by now ever-present culture of selfies and roadside PET bottle recycling containers.
Be it half-renovated post-communist estates, used car tires turned garden decorations, or a roadside bench in the middle of nowhere painted in Romanian national colours, the images from Eastern Mirror go well beyond the visually pleasing records of quirky Eastern European trivia. Instead, Hajdu offers a big dose of humour while at the same time documenting certain post-communist legacy that can be found not only in Baia Mare but also elsewhere in the region affected by years of the communist rule.
Tamás Hajdu (b.1976) is a Hungarian veterinarian and photographer based in Baia Mare, Romania. Tamás’ work has been widely exhibited, including Photoville presented by Feature Shoot, the Spotlight Romania Show at GEMAK in The Hague or most recently, Fotoistanbul 2016. Hajdu was shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards 2013 and a finalist of the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2015. His photography has been featured in a number of photography magazines and publications, including Punctum, Practical Photography, Vice, Lenscratch, Feature Shoot, The Independent, La Repubblica and The Guardian.