Meet Ioan and Lucretia - we call them Tata Nelu and Mama Keti. They are the type of people who bring you chicken soup at your door when you are sick, and make you stuffed eggplants when you are too busy from work to cook; tightly wrapped in Tupperware that rarely gets returned. They are the type of people that help raise your rowdy 2.5 year old who turns their house upside down everyday after preschool.
Nelu and Keti have been married for over 50 years, and this year will turn the seasoned ages of 85 and 80.They live one mile down the road and enjoy plants, and gardening immensely- though they do disagree on when the roses should be pruned. On any given day you can find Mama Keti cooking delicious Romanian food in the kitchen, or rolling her eyes at her husband who is complaining about something I can't understand (literally). In over a decade, I have not been able to really have a full conversation with Tata Nelu, though I feel we have a mutual respect and understanding. I get who he is, and even if I could speak Romanian in the slightest, he is a man of few words anyway. On any given day you can find Tata Nelu waddling around their small patio, collecting plastic milk containers for watering his array of geraniums and cymbidium orchids that would rival any professional greenhouse on this side of the Mississippi. You could pop in their modest home and find Mama Keti sitting in a floral gown, on her floral patterned couch with the coffee table in an awkward, unusable place in the back of the room so that Piper, my daughter, has more room to play. Passing by their house on an afternoon, you might find Tata Nelu in jeans and a sweater that he has worn daily for a few decades, rummaging through his tools, trying to fix some cheap toy of Piper's with tape, or caulking, so she can get a few more months out of it. Aesthetics take a back seat to function.
People call people like them "salt of the earth". I never understood that saying and should probably know, or at least Google it, but I like salt, and I like them - so there.
Nelu and Keti came to the States in 1988 as political refugees from then Communist Romania. Though the country has drastically changed over the past quarter century, as have they, I wanted to composite them in an "environmental portrait" with elements from their home town of Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
The elements for this composite were shot a few years back on our trip to Cluj, on a crisp morning with sunlight hitting the famous St. Michael's Church, as well as other landmarks around the center of town. Mama Keti and Tata Nelu were photographed in our living room one Saturday evening, followed by a delicious family meal...pork, of course!