Documentary and Street Photographer Oliver Merce is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From his project ‘Juju‘. To see Oliver’s body of work click on any image.
If someone would do a notoriety ranking of those who live in Anina, Romania, Juju would certainly be ranked first, beating the mayor or other politicians, because they are known mainly by adults, while Juju is known by everybody, including children.
He was born in 1940 in Ramnicu Valcea. His father was a soldier (sometimes rough) and his mother was a doctor, gentle nature that contrasted sharply with that of her husband. He spent his childhood in the city where he was born, his only memories being the fights with the neighborhood children or against children in other neighborhoods.
His teenage years were spent in Bucharest, his father made the decision to enroll him at the Military School of Music. During this period he receives the name “Juju” from his French teacher, name that he uses until today. After high school, his father, an authoritarian, decides that his son will follow the Conservatory. But Schopenhauer, Kant, Jung, etc. had entered the head of Juju. What should he do with the piano? A lifetime to play the piano? So, without his father knowing it, he applies to the philosophy college. He was accepted; he followed the first year, the second year, the third year. Towards to the end of the fourth year, his father founds out that he studies philosophy and being angry he withdraws his son from college and send him to join the army.
Thus, Juju reaches Brasov city. He was lucky to become the friend of his captain there. At one point, the captain says: “What the hell are you doing with philosophy? There is no money coming out of that! Let me guide you to earn some money! I will send you to apply to Civil Engineering “. Juju is puzzled at first: “I am a humanist; I cannot manage even a function of the second degree”. Eventually, he manages to graduate college, getting to work in construction. One day, while doing insulation of a building together with a few other workers, he fell off the block building. He spent many months “packed” in gypsum, but eventually got well. Traces of the accident, however, are still visible today.
In 1993 he starts working at the mine in Anina (Mine Shaft I), continuing this work here until the terrible accident on 14 January 2006, accident which leads to the decision to close the mine (July 2006). After 13 years in this place, Juju decides to live in the mine, occupying the room where the guard stood.
Although, once relocating to the mine, Juju has not broken social relationships with the rest of the world, it is clear that between him and others, it has been created a “fracture” (term used by Juju). At the moment, he identifies himself with the mine.
Juju likes the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Queen, Mahalia Jackson, Ike Turner. He is a happy man because he considers himself a free man (as “any form of addiction is bad”).
In one of our meetings I asked him to describe himself as seen by himself or as he thinks he’s seen by those around him. He started to recite one of his poems:
“My soul struggles inside me
Like the extinguished flight from the window.
I feel it in the honey too,
More unraveled in the blue horizon.
I wish I could stay, I can’t do it
I write inside my mind to please.
One is white, the other one is often.
A meaningful topic
I think you know it – I keep it under my hat
In a cerebral rib,
Taken as a mental illness.
They were displayed as in the picture,
I’m waiting for the arrival from the echo.
My soul struggles inside me,
I caress myself in honey.”
The photos were taken between August 2014 – February 2015. They are simple portraits of Juju, made entirely across the Anina mine. All biographical information is based solely on the stories of Juju.
By Oliver Merce