“I really, truly was just walking around with absolutely no troubles in the world,” the photographer tells us as he exhibits a collection of images taken in a remote Romanian village
A quick Google search on the village of Floresti, Transylvania, takes you to a tourism web page, the first line of which reads: “If serenity is what you are looking for, then come to Floresti.” It’s a fitting description to come across in the wake of Jamie Hawkesworth’s new exhibition opening, A Short Pleasurable Journey, Part Two, a collection of 86 photographs and one film made in the Romanian village over the course of three weeks, during which time the photographer simply captured what he came across. Hawkesworth’s trip to Floresti had come about by chance while he was working on another film project, but the London-based photographer felt compelled to stay in the small and serene Transylvanian village, and explore it with his camera.
Taken in July 2018, it was only when Hawkesworth was in queues at Disneyland Paris, of all places, that he thought to exhibit the photographs he took in Floresti. “I took my nephew to Disneyland Paris, and it was such a weird place. Obviously you have to queue so much, and I was reading this book called Sculpting in Time [by Andrei Tarkovsky] and it made me think about spending time in one place, which is what I did in Floresti, so I was like oh shit, I should bloody do that.” The resulting show was put together to mimic the feeling Hawkesworth had while spending time in Floresti, and the vast number of prints, in all varying sizes, from an almost life-size portrait of a man in his bed to a collection of extra-small shots of beautiful wildflowers (“like being hit by a wave of flowers,” he says), serves to immerse the viewer in his experience of the remote village. Speaking to AnOther ahead of the exhibition’s opening this week, Hawkesworth describes the characters he encountered in Floresti and explains why this work is unlike any he’s made before.
“I was planning a short film here in England and I wanted to find an orchestra to do a score, and I contacted a youth orchestra called the LSSO [London Schools Symphony Orchestra], and the conductor asked if I’d like to go and see them perform in Romania. I always like an excuse to go somewhere new, so that’s how I ended up in Floresti. It is this weird and wonderful place – I had no expectations, I didn’t know anything about it. It’s nice to have no agenda and just be open to what you come across, and I’ve never really shown that in this way. I got up every morning at sunrise and just walked around.
“At the time I wasn’t thinking this, but now that I’ve put the show together, what’s so wonderful is it’s very unedited – there’s a lot of pictures, and it really shows every step along the way. I always bang on about this idea of photographs feeling like building blocks and one photo leads to the next and the next, and I’ve really tried to show that here. I haven’t really done that before, I’ve always taken the pictures out of context – with A Short Pleasurable Journey, Part One, that was showing a journey from Antarctica to Japan to Russia and trying to show how my sensibility moved to all these different places, whereas this time it’s actually just showing how I walked down the road, which I thought was nice and touching in a different way.
“It’s funny because everyone felt very approachable, but not many people wanted their portrait taken. Which is fine, and weirdly that makes some of the pictures even more monumental for me, like for example the man in his bed. That picture was quite crazy – his wife invited us into their home, and that room was almost pitch black. The lady was talking to us, and I turned and saw him there and I had to do a double take. I said ‘may I take your portrait?’ and he just nodded, like really slowly. It was actually a four-second exposure, and he didn’t even move. I’d completely forgotten about it, and then when I saw it on the contact sheet, it kind of felt like a picture that I’d never taken before. It was very strange but kind of amazing. I did a test of that picture to see how it felt life-size, the way that I experienced taking the picture, and when it was up in the dark room it felt like this weird portal. It’s massive in the show – as you walk in, that’s the first image you can see.
“I was staying with a family, and the room that I was staying in looked out onto a sort of road. I saw this kid, and he was helping his dad collect all this grass. The film that’s in the show is this kid wearing these gold shorts, collecting grass for his dad and putting it in this massive barn. I like that relationship between the youthful kid running around collecting grass and the older man in his bed. You know, of all the people that said yes to having their portrait taken it was these two extremes. In terms of chance, it was amazing that they said yes.
“I remember when I first got the contact sheets back, I was like: I want to print every single frame. I guess it just made me incredibly curious. I must have just arrived there at the right time in terms of the way that I was feeling at that particular moment. When I go to a place and I’m commissioned to go, I very much approach it without any agenda and I just see what I come across, but somehow in Floresti that feeling was heightened, in an extremely naive way. I really, truly was just walking around with absolutely no troubles in the world, you know. I find it exciting to be able to show something so naive in also a very naive way – I’m just printing almost all the pictures and shoving them on the wall.”
A Short Pleasurable Journey, Part Two, is at 1–7 Aylesbury Street, London, from May 17 – 27, 2019.