The Stark Reality of Rural Life in Romania

Searching for everyday situations that walk a tightrope between reality and something peculiar or incongruous, Cedric Van Turtelboom’s photobook, Noroc is a document of Romania’s identity post communism

© Cedric Van Turtelboom, from the photobook, Noroc

"Noroc" is an expression used when you toast or to say goodbye to someone. This is how the book starts - the photographer places the reader in Romania, the last country to enter the European Union, and Noroc is the ambiguous concept that Cedric Van Turtelboom, a Belgian photographer currently based in China, used as a starting point.

The first image shows a garden table with two bottles of Noroc, which also seems to be a local beer. The garden is covered in snow, surrounded by naked trees; it must be winter. There are more bottles around it, maybe there was a party or maybe they have been there for a long time. The first part of the book takes place outdoors: a huge firewood pile stack in the garden, someone looking over a fence (it might be the neighbour), a little table surrounded by snowy stump stools, a broken billboard that you can see through, an ostrich inside a van, a portrait of a bridegroom with a van, a frozen animal (it seems to be dead), and a boy with a hex smashing a car. My feet are already cold and I think we are far from the city.

© Cedric Van Turtelboom, from the photobook, Noroc

The book has a series of gatefolds throughout, with titles such as "Family Portrait in the Hospitality Room," "Mikel decides to take a break," "Lucian is waiting for the end of the winter"… Once you open the gatefold, a triptych appears in the form of a sequence with a text at the bottom of the middle page. The text gives you a brief description of some of the everyday realities that Cedric met along the way and the places he stayed. The gate folds are a door to the domestic environment. It works very nicely, both visually and conceptually.

"AFTER SCHOOL ARIANA GREETS HER GRANDPARENTS WHO LIVE NEXT DOOR. THE GRANDMOTHER KEEPS A FEW COWS IN THE BACKYARD AND SHE GOES EVERY MORNING TO SELL MILK AT THE MARKET. THE GRANDFATHER HAS BEEN ILL FOR A WHILE AND IS RESTING IN FRONT OF THE TV. I BROUGHT A BOTTLE OF BEER. THE ONLY WORD WE CAN EXCHANGE IS ‘’NOROC’’

Frames with kitsch pictures or family snapshots, wooden walls, rooms painted in bright blues or oranges, fluffy colourful curtains or religious decorative images… everything seems very familiar, it is nothing extraordinary. The last gatefold takes us outdoors again for "An outdoor dinner party" followed by a cockerels head lying in the snow which is the last picture of the book.

© Cedric Van Turtelboom, from the photobook, Noroc

Jean-Marc Bodson who contributes a text at the end of the book says "It is as if, thanks to him, under the familiarity of the surface we are again able to see individuality and singularity which cocks and snook at industrial uniformity. Nothing spectacular, just little things, trivia, which - used as is to conforming to the ordinary - fill our lazy vision with joy, even to the point to make the trivial seem exotic." Cedric is not giving a defined narrative in Noroc, but he sets up the context and characters to invite the reader to imagine their own story. It’s a fragmented glimpse of a rural reality where you have to be creative to make a living. The images are interesting, formally speaking; the use of flash brings the rawness of this undefined story to the surface; that surface where Cedric has been moving around.

The book is designed by SYB. Full bleed images (with the exception of the triptychs), bound with a metal wire and wrapped in a soft dust jacket that functions as a cover. It has a wobbly feeling when you hold it, which I am not totally convinced about. Using a wire binding is a brave decision, some of my favourites books use it (Paris Du Nuit by Robert Bresson or Paloma al Aire by Ricardo Cases) but I am not completely sure if it is the right choice for this book as all the images used are landscape orientated. The wire works in some but it’s a bit distracting in others. Noroc is though an interesting book with great images.

--------------

Cedric Van Turtelboom is a freelance documentary photographer based between Belgium and Beijing, China. To learn more about his work, visit his PHmuseum profile.

Alejandro Acin is the director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as a designer and editor at ICVL Studio.

To stay up to date with the latest exhibition openings, artist opportunities, and photography news from around the world, follow the Photographic Museum of Humanity on and .