It was a decade ago that Czech photographer Ibra Ibrahimovic began working on a series in north Bohemia, a rare and extensive look into the life of a three-generation farming family in north Bohemia known as the Rajters. For years the family had farmed devastated land by a chemical factory under communism - a personal exile that came to an end when the communist regime fell in 1989, opening the way for buying new land and beginning farming anew. Meanwhile, Ibra Ibrahimovic was attracted to the Rajters from the start - intrigued by the family's farming tradition, how it would face unexpected challenges and new transitions. The result is a testimony to both a struggle, and a way of life. Jan Velinger reports.
It's nothing less than a remarkable series - "The Farmer's Journey from Collectivisation to Globalisation" - mapping the lives of an extended farming family surviving in difficult times. Photographer Ibra Ibrahimovic persuaded the Rajter family to let him into their lives as early as ten years ago, and his hard work has now paid off. The series has gained wide-recognition among the public and the Senate, where it is currently on display, after one of the prints won top prize at this year's Czech Press Photo competition, a photo showing farmer Jan Rajter sharing a laugh with a village boy after a long day's work. Photographer Ibra Ibrahimovic agrees the shot is an exceptional moment in what is otherwise a far darker series.
"In this series the photo shines because it is the very optimistic. That's one reason why it really stands out. The others aren't pessimistic but they are somewhat bleaker in character. It's also important to consider the viewer's mood when he views a photograph: that can also influence why one photograph touches one's heart more than another."
The farmer, seated in a car, leans back as he shares a joke with his helper - the village boy who leans into the vehicle. Key is the meeting of eyes - the boy's glance and toothy grin as well as the farmer's reaction. The interplay between the two figures is magnetic - you can not help but glance from one figure to another over again, repeating the sequence in your head, scanning the eye lines as they meet - the old man's eyes almost shut, the boy's like beans in a sideways glance. A moment of spontaneous warmth frozen in the photo contrasting the bare grey background, the boy's worn sweater, the work gloves thrown over the steering wheel, all suggesting the day's work.
"It was autumn and that day I was shooting the Rajter's transporting heifers from the pastures. A local boy named Vasek was helping out, and having a great time. But during one break he became bored, so he tried his hardest to make Mr Rajter and me laugh. In the end I shot about three or four films with Vasek and the result was the winning photograph."
The rest of the series is clearly darker and it's no accident that a mood of bleakness pervades other moments. Ibra Ibrahimovic worked on the last part of the series over many months, a year in which the Rajters continued to work under the shadow of a new threat, encroaching globalisation. While the Rajters slog away in the cow shed, work on the fields, and rise early to milk their cows, the horizon presents an ever-present and growing danger: far-off smoke-stacks, an endless slew of dead fish in the black waters of a pond, factories spewing smoke into a quiet, brooding sky.
Ironically, for the Rajters the impact has come even closer: for several years now the family has led an extended legal battle versus the Czech Republic for ceding some of the richest agricultural soil in the country to a multi-national firm to build an aluminium factory. A factory right next door. Concerns over toxins notwithstanding, the family has lost every single legal step trying to prevent the project. The case will now come up at the country's constitutional court, which will have to decide whether or not the project encroaches upon the Rajters' lives. Lives the family had hoped to begin anew, following the absurdities of the former regime.
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