'Ioan making bread’ by Judy Ford LRPS
Completing the Joan Wakelin Bursary project has been a journey of self-discovery. At the beginning I did not fully understand the strength of my commitment to the project.
I knew I felt compelled to document the remarkable communities I had discovered in rural Romania, and was determined to explore ways to help them preserve their way of life in the future, but I did not really understand why this compulsion was so strong.
I discovered during the project that I need to have a meaningful purpose. My drive came from wanting to do more than create attractive images – I needed to make a difference. I want to build a collection of stories to form a record for future generations and find ways to help those struggling to maintain this way of life.
The bursary idea of examining the transference of values between generations of women came from personal curiosity. I felt great respect for the older generation of women I met and, given the huge economic and cultural challenges faced by this region, I wanted to know whether these values were being passed down to younger women. I felt there was wisdom in the resilience and attitude of the older women and hoped this would not be lost in future generations.
Covid-19 caused many frustrations and delays to the project, but I used this time to research the culture and history of the region and to develop my photographic storytelling skills. Training and mentorship from a successful documentary photographer gave me new confidence and helped me to establish my own style.
In June 2021 I finally landed in Bucharest. I was heading for Maramureș in the far north, a 14-hour drive from Bucharest. We covered 2,500km on the trip and explored new areas in the Apuseni Mountains. Finding people in new areas is time-consuming, but the thrill of discovery is rewarding.
In the image above, the light and the rustic background was particularly special. Here we see Ioan, aged 84, making bread. His wife left him many years ago and he has no children. This scene almost looks too good to be true, but it was completely uncontrived. Ioan makes bread every other day and we were lucky enough to catch him at this moment.
I aim to record everyday life using only natural light and without posing people. I like to photograph inside homes, because the surroundings add so much to the story, but darkly lit rooms do present a lot of challenges. I try to capture emotion or character in a portrait.
I also try to capture emotion or character in a portrait. This slightly quirky portrait shows a woman hugging one of her chickens, which she loves too much to kill. I think some of her character comes through in the portrait.
‘Attachment’ by Judy Ford LRPS
In other images fragments of the environment speak of the people that live there. This simple cottage window, with house plants pressed against the glass, brightens a gloomy room. Despite a life of extreme hardship, the elderly couple who live here use plants and wild flowers to bring beauty to their home.
‘Saveta's window’ by Judy Ford LRPS
The same window taken from the outside shows a different side to their life, with garlic drying in the sun and wood and steel saved for future use.
The bursary project is not the end of my journey in Romania, but it has been an important achievement and a huge learning experience. I plan to return in spring and winter 2022. Together with my husband, I am raising funds for some families and I hope to help these communities find a way to be sustainable while preserving their traditions. The bursary has set me on a path of growth and discovery which I hope to continue for many years. Ultimately, I aim to publish a book that gives the world a glimpse of the wisdom and beauty of these communities.
I live and work with my husband Daryl, a blacksmith who is also a photographer, on a smallholding in North Devon. Join us on our photographic journey at instagram.com/dapperandjude and dapperandjude.com
Judy Ford LRPS is the 2020 recipient of the Joan Wakelin Bursary, run by the RPS in partnership with the Guardian. Find out more about RPS Bursaries.
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‘Garlic drying outside Saveta's window’ by Judy Ford LRPS