© Tamas Paczai
At some point I realized that death and emptiness pervade my series. Probably, this is what The Dream about the Motherland is really about.
I spent the first years of my life in Romania under Ceausescu’s rule. Though it is considered to have been a period of insane dictatorship and terror, for me it was the most beautiful and happiest part of my life. At that time I was the only child of an extended family, with all my relatives living in the same city of Targu-Mures. My childhood was almost perfect. I used to visit my grandparents every day, hang around in the city park and the Zoo, go to concerts with my teenage aunts and their friends and go hiking with them in the Transilvanian mountains as often as possible. It was a fairytale.
Then, in 1988, my father had to escape the country to hide from the secret police who were aggressively trying to recruit him. One year later, I and my mother followed him to Hungary, the country of our ancestors.
When the revolution of 1989 rolled over Romania, the whole family literally fell apart. Some of us went to Hungary, some to the US while some stayed in Romania.
Once we had left Romania, I felt that my somehow too perfect childhood was over and I longed for the old days. In Hungary we couldn’t recreate them, because everybody was preoccupied with setting up a new life and career in a new country and we lived in separate locations.
When I was a teenager I got involved in photography and started visiting Transylvania, meeting relatives and documenting the rural life that I’d always considered a fairy tale and which was related to my childhood. I visited the places where many years ago we used to travel with my parents and other places where I felt as if I were a child again.
Over these years I visited my motherland many times and got to know it better, but at the same time my elder relatives were starting to pass away until finally, their absence produced a kind of distance. While for many years I had felt as if I was returning home, without them I started to feel like a stranger.
One of these photographs shows a coffin holding the body of one of my relatives, one who I was fondest of. I often stayed at his house when visiting Romania. One night, when he was already in a very bad condition, I decided to stay besides him. Several times I asked him if I should call a doctor, but he kept refusing. The situation depressed me so much that I finally left the house to spend the rest of the night at my godparents’ place. The next morning we received the bad news. His death came as a shock to me but in a way it also pushed me to continue the project. Maybe I still need time to accept certain things.
For the last couple of years I’ve been travelling around the world, working on projects and stories. I cannot find my home anywhere (though, I feel more and more that it is Hungary). In Romania, I have almost no relatives and friends left, while in Hungary I never felt at ease, as it wasn’t my decision to move there. Romanians have a word bozgor that means “a rootless person”. Mostly they use it to sarcastically refer to the Hungarian minority.
I’ve finally accepted my situation and I’m happy about what has happened and how it happened. Probably, I am more sensitive to subjects such as home, motherland and roots than other people, and that may be the reason why it appears in my photography so strongly.
Tamas Paczai is a freelance photographer born in Romania in 1981. He also works as a photo editor for the Hungarian Képmás monthly magazine. Currently based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
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