Waldeinsamkeit: my journey (book's preface)
I had “lost”, I had forgotten these photos for 25 years - later on I’ll explain why. When I found them again, a year ago, I was surprised with how old they looked, much older than their 25 years. Europe is changing today in a lightning fast pace and that’s why what I saw then, looks now like “another” Europe.
When I started all this in 1985, we had then a divided Europe, the Wall, two opposite camps, the Cold War, all that stuff. By that time I was a young person fascinated by Mitteleuropa, by its music, literature, history, everything. The division of Central Europe in particular –and consequently of whole Europe–, as well as the oppression in the East, overwhelmed me. And then I had this “idea” of traveling all over Europe, visiting European countries, Eastern and Western alike, photographing people living on both sides of the Wall, and presenting all these humans together in a book, beyond borders and barriers. A naïve and grandiose “plan”, like all youthful plans.
And that gave me the energy, the motivation to travel for the next five years all around Europe, from Lisbon to Warsaw, visiting 17 countries, always alone, with a small clunker running at 90km/h max, sleeping in it, spending the nights in highway parking lots or in the middle of nowhere, stopping in every city, walking for hours observing people in the streets, a big joy. And taking a few photos of them. And every winter I would return home to develop the films and work, waiting until springtime to take off again.
I visited Eastern Europe and I saw the misery in Romania, the oppression and fear in the eyes of people in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. And a somewhat milder life in Hungary and Poland. And at the same time I was visiting the West, and took pictures of western people in the exact same way as I did in the East. Western Europe wasn’t paradise for me, I was there to see the lonely, the elderly or the poor, most of the time. I soon realized that I wasn’t into “photojournalism”; I was unable to document reality. The only subjects I was really interested in were the human faces I could see in the streets, and the human condition, maybe.
And then, in 1989, the Wall collapsed, suddenly, without asking me whether I had completed the project or not... And my grandiose plan, a Europe with no walls, unified through photography, seemed more stupid than ever... So, I wondered what the heck I was doing all those years, what the point of all this was. The decompression was so abrupt. But I was in Berlin that cold November night and I lived the most exciting moments of my life, everybody there felt that way, we were living History, Freedom. Europe was changing before our eyes, walls were falling, it was magic.
When all came to pass, I had to go back home, with no other plans and terribly disappointed. What I had in hand was of no value in my eyes. It wasn't “documentation”, photojournalism, it wasn't “art” either (“art photography” was something I couldn’t even stand). I felt that my work had no place anywhere. I had done something very personal and old-fashioned because that was me. And I didn't want to make a career on that, I had no motivation anymore. So, I buried the negatives away in a storage room and forgot them completely. And with them I buried that part of my life. I had family and a job to feed my family and I was happy with my new life, never missed the old days, never said anything and never showed the photos to anybody, not even my wife. I had totally forgotten my past and my photos, for 25 years.
And then, in March 2014, I found the old Minox in a drawer –all photos were shot with this little marvel. I remembered what I had done with it and found the negatives, in good condition. I scanned a few frames and uploaded them in Facebook. To my great surprise, they were a success with my friends there, and it was a big surprise for me because –I mean it– I’d never thought that anyone would be interested in my work. And then I uploaded more and more. I thought then that these human faces I saw in the streets of Europe in the 80s should not disappear with me, that they could live in a book. I made a first selection of 95 photos from the archive -et voilà! Here is the book, dedicated to my Facebook friends, to whom I owe everything.
And last but not least, I want to express my gratitude to all of you who bought this book, which was made totally independently, without funds or sponsors or publishing houses backing it up. This is a labour of love -love for Europe and the Europeans. I am writing these lines a few days after the horrible attacks in Paris. L'Europe vaincra.