Posted on 06/13/2013

Photo taken on October  8, 2010

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Ferrotype of three (Bucharest?) suburbanites

Ferrotype of three (Bucharest?) suburbanites
Romanian ferrotype, roughly CDV-sized
Photographer unknown, possibly Bucharest, ca. 1895-1910

There`s no simple way to describe what a "mahalagiu" means in Romanian. Initially naming a neighbourhood / quarter in urban settlements throughout the European part of the Ottoman Empire and Ottoman-influenced territories, the mahala (plural: mahalale) slowly evolved in Romanian as a name for the poorer (eventually insalubrious) quarters on the outskirts of a town. Mahalale par excellence, as those of Bucharest, sheltered a motley population of half-urbanised servants, workmen, small merchants and emerging petty bourgeoisie, as well as some densely grouped ethnic minorities. As such, the mahalale and the term for their inhabitants, mahalagii, acquired a distinctive pejorative connotation in Romanian, which survived long after the historical mahalale lost their social particularities. Low or uncertain origins, archaic mentality and customs combined with a fascination for everything new and fashionable, an appetite for bad taste conspicous consumption (eventually unsupported by the individual`s real economic resources) - that would sum up the portrait of the mahalagiu, as seen from an urbanised middle or high-class point of view.

This ferrotype shows three rather typical mahalagii, probably in their Sunday best. The man wears a seemingly traditional rural costume with a waist belt (chimir)... seasoned with a tie. The two women follow almost entirely the European fashion of the late 1890s - early 1900s (see the Art Nouveau buckle on the right), but they also wear the traditional coin necklaces of a rural Sunday attire... Their pose leaves little place for elegance: hands on hips, machoism and dubious familiarity. But note as well their worked hands.

Ferrotypes were known in Romania as the "pauper`s photograph", a cheaper alternative to paper photography: they were the product of itinerant photographers which could be found in markets and fairs.

I`m still searching for some serious references regarding the man`s folk costume and for a more precise date for the women`s attire: suggestions appreciated.


View this photo on Flickr.

Rescued by Rover, elinor04 (Nóra Mészöly) have particularly liked this photo

very interesting man's traditional garment !
4 years ago.
skiagraphia has replied to Nylonbleu
4 years ago.