“Conducting research in archives is similar to laying out a jigsaw puzzle. From pictures and snippets, past times can be brought to life. The overall image often remains fragmentary and can only be completed by conjecture and imagination.”
Archiving family memories and dreams –
I have no more than 50 photographs from my childhood in Transylvania (Romania) – so I did not expect to find an archive containing thousands of pictures depicting my childhood memories, when I travelled to Gundelsheim am Neckar (Germany) in autumn 2019. This is where the Transylvania Institute (Siebenbürgen-Institut) is located, which also houses a photo archive. Here, family photos and -albums are collected from the estates of Transylvanian Saxons.
The Transylvanian Saxons are a group of people of German ethnicity who were settled in Transylvania, Romania, in waves starting from the mid-12th century. They formed protected communities in towns and villages, where they maintained ethnic tradition characterised in specific customs, folklore, way of life, and distinctive clothing style. Since the 1970s and in a mass emigration since 1990, the vast majority has left Romania.
The Transylvania Institute is dedicated to researching the history of this East-European region. It is thus committed to the preservation of cultural heritage that is threatened with extinction.
After days of research and reviewing countless of photos, I was overwhelmed. The picture that emerged consisted of numerous life plans based on the same rituals, ceremonies and rules. Some family histories could be peeled out and reconstructed in great detail over many generations. Of course, there were gaps here as well: the deprivations under the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu were less well documented compared to festive occasions around weddings, baptisms and religious celebrations.
On my trip back to Amsterdam, I started thinking about what I, as a visual journalist, could make out of this pile of inspiration. It took a while until all the pieces of the puzzle found their place.