In Transylvania with Mark Leaver

Mark strapped his camera around his chest and joined us cycling through Transylvanian wildflower meadows, sheepfolds and Saxon villages. In his travels around the world, Mark’s eye is drawn to people inhabiting the edges of society. The down-to-earth characters he meets are captured in images of subcultures from body builders in India to the facial tattoo community in Britain.

Here Mark shares his favourite shots from his slow journey through the Carpathian foothills and his thoughts on encounters with gypsies, Saxons, Romanians and the odd sheepdog.


This is a scene that really sums up Transylvania for me. Around every corner you will see a new stretch of rolling hills as far as the eye can see and as you survey the landscape, you’ll see picturesque homes dotted among the trees. I love the purple wildflowers in the foreground of this shot too.


The gypsies and the surrounding cultures amazed and fascinated me in Romania. Our guide informed us that gypsies have settled here from all over the world and from as far as India. This couple walking home from a firewood hunt made me double take. You can see the amazing mixture of Indian and Romanian heritage.


The generosity and welcoming nature of strangers always amazes me. In Romania it was no exception: this man saw me taking photos one morning and swiftly invited me into his house for tea. He continued to show me all around his barn, he even brought his son out and put a matching hat on him for a father-son portrait!


There are plenty of pretty scary dogs in Transylvania, though luckily this was not one of them. I saw this guy one morning as I was taking some photos before the day’s cycle ride. He was standing on top of this huge pile of logs. I instantly grabbed my camera and fired off a load of shots expecting him to either bark at me or run away. He did neither; he just stood up there curiously looking down at me. I decided like him to slow down, I changed my camera lens and took a few more photos of him before strolling on.


This man looks stern, as though he doesn’t want to be photographed. It’s funny as that wasn’t the case. We laughed around for a bit before this shot as I had lost all the other cyclists (every corner I turned on my slow cycle trip I had to dismount and take photos!) and I was covered in mud. He pointed me in the right direction. Before I cycled on I asked him for photo; he agreed and put on this hat and placed a cigarette in his mouth, as if to mimic a gangster he has seen in a movie.


You don’t buy firewood in Transylvania – you won’t find any supermarkets or timber merchants – you chop it yourself. The Transylvanian lifestyle which we experienced was almost entirely self-sustainable.


On one of our many pit/pub stops we were all sitting outside enjoying a cold beer while taking in the Saxon surroundings. I noticed this guy standing by the door enjoying a cigarette. I went over and said hello and asked him if I could take a photograph of him, he nodded and stood there like a statue. I snapped away while his cigarette ran down to the butt and flies casually landed on his motionless head.


Wine is a big part of Transylvanian lifestyle, one of our stops took us to a local winery, where we learnt all about the distillation and growing of local grapes. We enjoyed a few glasses under this amazing canopied terrace.


In one of the villages we stayed in there was a particularly beautiful high street. I walked up and down it numerous times trying to get the perfect shot that summed up the place and all the time these three were watching me and chuckling away (I was walking around in circles). This turned out to be my favourite shot of the street that summed it up!


See more of Mark’s beautiful photography and read about his trip with us in Suitcase magazine and on his website www.mdleaver.com and @mdleaver. To join us cycling and walking in Transylvania, find a trip.

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