We never know what’s inside the garages. We just know. Garages are storage, socializing, craft / cloth / hobbies, summer kitchen and pickling workshop or wine cellar. The photographer says it, documented Petruț Călinescu. There are also extreme situations, which we talk about in the article, which he encountered in his documentary photography project – La Garaje.
Petruţ he started documenting in Chisinau, then he walked in several cities in Romania, looking for those concrete cubes, which for their owners means a whole universe:
A garage is an escape, a valve. The period in which the block of flats were built meant a great migration from the country to the city (…). I don’t know the proportion between those who were forcibly moved and those who were willing, but I think some of them longed for their life in the yard – and the garage makes up for that nostalgia.
We are also embarking on a journey into the world of garages, together with Petruț, and we find out how his search went, how he was received, what stories he witnessed and how concerned the urban planning authorities are.
The idea of the project
A few years ago, I was documenting another topic in Moldova with a small scholarship and I met an older friend, Daniel Mihailescu, who worked for France Press. We both walked around during the day, looking for pictures, and in the evening we met for a beer and exchanged information.
Exactly on the last day before he left, Daniel had been to the garages in Chisinau and was infected by the joy there. He told me that I had to keep an eye on him, especially since he would not cover the subject, working for a news agency was not necessarily what he was looking for. I liked the idea, but it remained dormant for a while, until I returned to Chisinau.
Documentation went hard during this time. Initially, I went to strictly document the garages in the Republic of Moldova, but as soon as I obtained a financing, the borders were a bit blocked. Then you could only drive if you were quarantined on the way back and forth, which made matters worse.
In order not to waste too much time, I deviated from the initial plan and started looking for them in Romania as well. We made some big tours around the country, through the north (Viseu, Sighetul Marmatiei), then descending towards the center of the country (Deva) and further down, towards the Danube (Orsova). The garages were easy to find, where you could see communist blocks of flats, there were also garages.
How you were received
In general, people in the province are more open. They are not reluctant to strangers, they do not have big things to hide, they do not avoid, they are less stressed. In Bucharest, the world is more suspicious, everyone is afraid that you were sent by someone, that you are going to complain to them, that you have a different agenda.
To tell people, I always tell them the truth. I try to simplify it, to be able to understand it quickly: that I am working on a material about life in garages, that in fact in garages people express some needs that were not taken into account when these common living spaces were designed. From closing the door in my nose to putting it on the table and treating the king, I had the whole range of reactions. Certainly, most of the experiences were positive.
The universe of garages
The garage is a concrete cube that everyone fills according to their needs, imagination and possibilities. Sky is the limit. People are different, so are their needs. There are big categories: storage, socializing, crafts / rags / hobbies, summer kitchen and pickling workshop or wine cellar. There are also extreme situations.
In Chisinau, for example, 2 kilograms of uranium were discovered in the garages. Also in Chisinau, in the garages you can visit an art gallery, there is a fresh fish shop or a museum of old computers, where about 100 functional computers are on display. And who knows what else, like I didn’t even see 1/1000. Garages are kindergartens with surprises for adults; you never know what’s inside.
I also grew up between blocks of flats, garages are part of the landscape of my childhood life, I haven’t discovered them now. The legends around them go back to my adolescence and childhood. I discovered the most beautiful legend in a press release, which I would report in full, without tarnishing it, because it is too good as it is:
Several inventive men from the Gheorgheni district of Cluj built themselves underground wineries under the garages behind the blocks where they gathered to drink and have fun without being seen.
The discovery was made by workers hired by the mayor’s office to demolish the garages. According to the deputy mayor, several men built an underground wine cellar, connected to each other’s garages through tunnels.
It’s news, but with the air of a legend, something makes me think it’s not entirely true – but maybe it’s the envy that I wasn’t the one to discover that Indiana Jones?
The most common event, spontaneous or planned, is drinking. Whether it’s birthdays, business days, long-planned or ad-hoc meetings, in Chisinau the garage is an alternative space for socializing. And I think it’s all over the former Soviet space.
A memorable story
I returned to Chisinau this year, after a long break from the project caused by the pandemic. All the way there, I asked myself all kinds of questions. Will he be okay with customs, will he let me pass easily? Every time the Moldovan customs officers invented reasons to nibble on me a little bit; this time, with the whole pandemic, they let me pass without any further discussion.
Coming from Romania, the roads in Moldova seem unreal empty. Escaped from the care of the customs, but also from the traffic, I am almost alone on the road, I wonder, as every time I go out on the field, how it will be. Do I find people, activity, in garages? Will he receive me easily, or will he at least receive me? What will he say when I show them the old pictures he took? I decide to try Lomonosov Street for the first time, where people have been very friendly in the past.
Only a few garages are open and in front of one seems to be a small family gathering. With the camera in my hand, I pass by the grill, smoking, with a silly smile, waiting for the inspiration for an introductory formula to appear.
“Come on in, we’re waiting for you.” says a grieving woman who was preparing the meal. I enter, normally; In the small room two families share a rich meal, full of salads and grills. “Look, this little one is to blame for this party; he told me he wanted a barbecue and we got to work. Someone in our family recently died. Eat more, take that too. I knew you were coming. First a piece of meat fell off the grill. Then he spilled a beer. We thought it was clear, the dead man wants it too – and I knew a guest would show up and eat for him.
What does a garage mean to its owner?
A garage is an escape, a valve. The period in which the block of flats were built meant a great migration from the country to the city. Suddenly, the man’s connections with nature, his piece of land and sky, the animals near the house, the craft, the good neighborly relations and friendship were given in exchange for the comfort offered by the block: running water, toilet, heating.
I don’t know the proportion between those who were forcibly moved and those who were willing, but I think some of them longed for their life in the yard – and the garage makes up for that nostalgia. There are places in Chisinau where the concrete at the base of the garage was broken, vines were planted and for years it covered the garages, the trellis on it produce enough wine to thank the owner of the garage. What good is a web site if it simply “blends in” with everything else out there?
It seems to me that Chisinau was planned more airy than Bucharest. The blocks are almost identical, but the spaces between them are larger. As a result, garages are further away from homes, and some of them are hundreds in one place, like small towns.
It may seem awful at first to have the garage away from the block, but today that distance means you can do whatever you want without bothering – just because someone from the garage isn’t going to get your attention. In the big cities of Romania, the real estate pressure has almost demolished most of them.
What the garages say about Romanian society
It seems obvious to me that there is no concern of the authorities about the quality of life of the inhabitants of the big cities, at least. Things are getting worse from this point of view and it can be seen with the naked eye, without being a specialist, that most residential blocks of flats are below the standards of the communists from all points of view.
Everything is offered for sale and there is no planning for leisure spaces. Existing parks, former sports complexes all turn into blocks. The western cities have long intuited the basic need of the people and you can rent from the town hall, for a ridiculous amount, a piece of land on the outskirts, where I can make you a garden house and a few layers.
With us, all you have to do is escape to the garage or the ground floor of the block, where you are vulnerable and exposed, where most of the time you are the target of the irony and evil of the neighbors.
Walking around the country, especially in disadvantaged areas, former industrial points left today without economy, garages shelter wood, cardboard and debris that can be burned for heating – entire cities are heated in the block on their own. There is no question of a barbecue here. Poverty is too high – the inhabitants are completely abandoned by the authorities and all that keeps them alive is the money sent by family members to work abroad.
Between 2019-2021 the project received funding from AFCN (National Cultural Fund Administration, OAR – Order of Architects of Romania and the Capital City Hall through ARCUB within the Bucharest – Open City Program.
As in most recent projects, Ioana Calinescu helped me with everything that means documentation, communication and editing. On the Bucharest side, we partnered with Alex Axinte / Open garage and Bogdan Iancu / SNSPA who helped us with their research expertise, because they had already done a study on the garages in Bucla, Drumul Taberei.
What prospects have you gained?
People can adapt and they don’t need much to survive. Authorities should inventory current uses of garages and take them into account in future urban planning. Come on, I said, I smiled too, “urban planning” …
We have resumed a new capital of an older project, “Pride and Concrete”. I have a project about the Dacians today, in which I kept pulling and putting everything in the drawer – I hope to bring this to light soon too. And, of course, to continue the garages, when I travel somewhere my eyes run to them automatically.
Source: IQads by www.iqads.ro.
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