“The Color of Hay” book review by Theo DeHart

The color of Hay: The Peasants of Maramures is an immersive look through the lens of Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin and the words of her husband H. Wood McLaughlin at the lives and culture of the peasants of Transylvania. The McLaughlins stayed for two years with a family in Maramures, documenting and sharing their lives. They went in search of an understanding of their own past and to preserve in images this fading way of life. The book is designed to show the photos and is paced nicely, with a mixture of color and black/white, full bleed and small photos which brakes up the text into easily readable portions.

It is divided first by seasons, winter, spring, and summer and then by death, youth, adulthood and old age. Each section begins with an account of what was going on by H. Wood McLaughlin. The book ends with thumbnails of each photo and a description of who was in the photograph.

The beautiful images draw you back in time and let you wander over the grass hills, study the hand made tools, and the work-hardened faces of the people. Suddenly you notice that the images are contemporary when you see a pair Converse sneakers or car within the photo; this reminds us that the photographs are from 2003 and not from the birth of photography.

On page 117 the photographer peeks over the shoulder of a young bride as she texts someone while waiting to cut her cake. In other photos the juxtaposition of the new and old is more striking; in one “the girls of Berbesti . . . strut their stuff” in their traditional brightly colored dresses and headscarves with their not so traditional pumps and fishnet stockings. On page 8 peasants work together to raise a new twelve foot gate, while on the next page the rotting remains of its forbearer sit silently. In this hard working culture, where your worth is base on your ability to work, growing old means growing useless. As Romania joins the European Union the old way of doing things will be relegated to stories, tourist traps, and this book.



Theo DeHart