REVIEWS & COMMENTS on The Color of Hay:

pdnedu, Vol 11 Issue 1//Spring 2012
by Abby Robinson

From 1999 to 2003, photographer and educator Kathleen L. McLaughlin and her husband spent time living in northernmost Transylvania, in a series of valleys known as Maramures. From this remote outpost, McLaughlin photographed the daily lives, rites and customs of local villagers, in a swath of territory comprising the last bastion of subsisitence peasant farming in Europe.

The photographs, which lovinging and poetically document the importance of traditions and how they mesh with the pastoral environment, were made with medium format film, mixing black and white with some color. The resulting book, a successful Kickstarter project, is presented in sections - the four seasons, home, animals, market and food, to name a few - each conveying the beauty, power and primacy of the land. Yet the images also reveal modernity making increasing inroads into Old World customs and institutions. One particularly good example: a shot of a wedding reception showing tables loaded up with traditional food and drink, while the bride fiddles with a cell phone in the foreground. The accompanying texts are insightful and filled with gentle humor. The Color of Hay not only gives us a glimpse of a very special milieu but also beautifully illuminates how the present collides with the past and the old morphs with the new.

Dr. Marcel Cornis-Pope, Writer and Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University

Based on her yearlong photographic projects in Romania (2000-2001, and 2002-2003), Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin’s photo reportage entitled “The Color of Hay” offers a visual exploration of the daily life, art, and communal traditions of peasants in Northern Transylvania (the Maramuresh region) and other parts of Romania. Kathleen’s photographic work, originally displayed at the Anderson Gallery in Richmond, has been in the meantime featured in other exhibitions in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Las Vegas, and Green Bay, Wisconsin – to mention only her solo exhibitions – , and has illustrated the covers of The Time Magazine and Lens Work. The commentary that accompanies the illustrations, written by H. Woods McLaughlin, expands the discussion, adding an intercultural dimension to the book.

What I found impressive in Ms. McLaughlin’s creative projects is not only the quality and subtlety of her photographic work, but also the perceptive thematic framework that she wove around it. “The Color of Hay” explores the various ways in which people in a traditional culture relate to their environment, their past and present, and to each other, connecting work and pleasure, body and spirit, old and young, into a complex web of relationships. Having spent more than a year among villagers in Northern Romania, Ms. McLaughlin managed to develop an intercultural understanding that helped not only her research and artistic work but also the dialogue between cultures as geographically remote as those of the US and Maramuresh.

Ms. McLaughlin’s work is both recuperative, trying to capture cultural manifestations on the wane, but also explorative, offering us insights into alternative ways of relating to one’s environment and to each other. What she proposes is not a nostalgic capturing of a folk culture that is dying out in its battle with technological modernity, but a recording of a communal mode of life and experience of connectedness that can prove relevant for us in the West. “The Color of Hay” bridges past and present, East and West, giving us a better sense of who we are and where we come from. With this work, and other projects she is currently involved in, Ms. McLaughlin has established herself as an original photographer, scholar, and mediator between cultures.


The Color of Hay: The Peasants of Maramures with photographs by Kathleen L. McLaughlin and text by H. Woods McLaughlin documents the authors’ two-year stay in the Maramures Valleys of northern Transylvania. The images in this monograph are simply stunning, navigating through the different aspects of village life that exists in a culture caught between the Old World and rapidly approaching modernization. The Color of Hay is organized into several sections distinguishing the change of seasons and the unequivocal ceremonies of life. The narrative these sections weave is both insightful and involves the reader to fully comprehend the full scope of this well-edited book.

Ioana Maria, Film

"I am Romanian, I am from Transilvania and I am so used to seeing images of my home that are trying to sell it and sensationalize it (yes, Dracula and Ceausescu come to mind). This is why I am so grateful for this book! The images are gorgeous but at the same time strictly true to the reality of today's Northern Transilvania (aka Maramures). Kathleen is not only a master of photography's poetry, but also a sharp observer and a brilliant researcher. She spent a year in the village she's documenting, and that shows in the thoroughness and profoundness of her images. Her husband Henry accompanied her on this project and he wrote some of the most insightful, humorous and heartbreaking prose about my home country in the text the accompanies the images. Trust me, Romania is a very complicated, strange, intense, sometimes overwhelming place, but Kathleen and Henry managed to both understand it like natives and observe it like intelligent, inquisitive foreigners. I keep this book on my desk and it is my go-to whenever I miss home or when somebody asks me: so, how is Romania like? I can't think of a better, more genuine, more loving or richer representation of Maramures!"

The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities

This is a hefty book, a book of love and reminiscence. These folk, however, are in no way over-romanticized, nor are their ways painted as lovely, gentle, all wise, all good. There are harsh winters, along with dirt and blood and sweat. The authors are not here to prettify it, they are certainly not ethnologists nor cultural sociologists. They are a couple with a camera and a fine sense of form and grace and a love of the past. Somehow they brought into being a great volume --- forty-four color photographs, ninety-four black-and white pictures --- spread out full page. There's no wasted commentary, only a fine tribute to peoples who are immersed in a change that no one seems to want.

Theo DeHart - dot photozine

The color of Hay: The Peasants of Maramures is an immersive look through the lens of Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin and the words of her husband H. Wood McLaughlin at the lives and culture of the peasants of Transylvania. The McLaughlins stayed for two years with a family in Maramures, documenting and sharing their lives. They went in search of an understanding of their own past and to preserve in images this fading way of life. The book is designed to show the photos and is paced nicely, with a mixture of color and black/white, full bleed and small photos which brakes up the text into easily readable portions.

It is divided first by seasons, winter, spring, and summer and then by death, youth, adulthood and old age. Each section begins with an account of what was going on by H. Wood McLaughlin. The book ends with thumbnails of each photo and a description of who was in the photograph. 

The beautiful images draw you back in time and let you wander over the grass hills, study the hand made tools, and the work-hardened faces of the people. Suddenly you notice that the images are contemporary when you see a pair Converse sneakers or car within the photo; this reminds us that the photographs are from 2003 and not from the birth of photography.

On page 117 the photographer peeks over the shoulder of a young bride as she texts someone while waiting to cut her cake. In other photos the juxtaposition of the new and old is more striking; in one “the girls of Berbesti . . . strut their stuff” in their traditional brightly colored dresses and headscarves with their not so traditional pumps and fishnet stockings. On page 8 peasants work together to raise a new twelve foot gate, while on the next page the rotting remains of its forbearer sit silently. In this hard working culture, where your worth is base on your ability to work, growing old means growing useless. As Romania joins the European Union the old way of doing things will be relegated to stories, tourist traps, and this book. 

Bill Owen

"The photographs in the Color of Hay are truly inspirational. They capture the essence of the old world colliding with the new that only could happen in Maramures. This is a fantastic book that brings this wonderful, mysterious place to life."