The book 'Cinci Lei' follows the lives of a group of kids that inhabit tunnels underneath the streets of Bucharest.
A teenage utopia of freedom, rebellion and lawlessness is set in a parallel society, fuelled by destructive drugs and little state or parental protection.
They are the Lost Boys.
I have been documenting the Lost Boys since early 2011. Over the years they have told me their incredible stories and I have seen the coming of age of a generation set against a backdrop of drug addiction, powerful friendships, orphanages, harsh winters and boiling summers.
It started when I gave Costel, one of the Lost Boys, a few pictures that I had shot of him the day before, and he then carefully invited me down to show me where he lived. With no common language, photography became a way to communicate.
Down here in these tunnels is where I met ‘Bruce Lee’ for the first time, a strong, heavily tattooed man who seemed to be the boss of that particular end of the tunnels. Though not entirely sure what his deal was (likewise, I’m sure) I respected him and I appreciated his openness. Over time, ‘Bruce’ grew protective over me and he welcomed my presence. Now, I can safely say that we are friends. In fact, in many ways it is thanks to him that I have been able to continue making this documentation of the Lost Boys.
The Lost Boys
Costel introduced me to his group of friends that later became the Lost Boys: Nicu (13), Stefan (10), and Liviu (14) (and many dogs). They are four of the approximately thousand ‘third generation’ homeless children in Bucharest after the fall of Communism.
For weeks on end we hung out on the streets and in the tunnels, and they let me photograph every second. I have witnessed many of their run-ins with the law, orphanages, adult drug addicts and each other, but above all I have seen an ever present strong sense of friendship, care, and protection of each other.
Unlike the gang behavior that you might expect from a group of parentless adolescent boys, these boys are like a family. I strongly believe that this is partly thanks to Bruce, who they look up to like a father, that they feel safe enough to drop their guard occasionally, so they can be just kids.
Their, and mostly Nico’s, story demands to be told and I will explain below why now is the time to do it.
I have just returned (last June) from another long stay in Bucharest. This time things took a radical turn. I felt compelled to take Nico to the hospital: he looked dangerously ill and lost what looked liked half his body weight since the last time I saw him. It turns out he has AIDS - with a CD4 count of 2 cells/mm3 (we speak of AIDS when someone has fewer than 200 cells/mm3). In other words, it was a miracle he could still breathe, let alone stand up. It was not until then that I found out he is actually fifteen years old, while not looking a day over ten; this was as well a shocking discovery.
As a foreigner, and not being related to Nico, it was difficult to visit him in the hospital, but thanks to some smart negotiation by Raluca from Asociatia Homeless (http://asohomeless.org), an independent organisation that I work closely with, I was able to see him on a daily base. This was not only necessary to make sure he received the medical attention he needed, but also to convince him of staying in the hospital and not to run away as he had done before. Although I can totally understand his urge to run off, I knew that he would not live to see the end of summer if he would.
So to help him relax, and after some more negotiating and bribing, I managed to get approval for his friends to visit him as well. That specific day I picked up the other Lost Boys and Bruce from the tunnels, and took them with me to the hospital. I walked into Nico's room by myself. Not knowing his friends were waiting for him outside, he hugged me and asked if we could go out for a cigarette. Slowly we walked down the stairs. When we were outside he saw his friends… And although he could barely stand up, he immediately let go of my hand and ran up to Bruce and the boys.
This was one of the most touching moments I ever witnessed.
This kickstarter project is here to get his story told as widely as it deserves, as part of the ongoing Lost Boys project. I know that it will give the Lost Boys an incredible boost in this difficult time. Apart from that it will give me personally a platform, and it will support in giving back to them in a way that is sustainable. More about this down below.
In the two and a half years that I have been following them I have collected a huge amount of footage. Over 6000 stills of which most are analogue, already scanned in high res. And on top of that about 30 hours of HD video footage, shot on the 5D mk2, RX1 and the HV20. It’s all ready to go.
In Luigi Vitali and Luca Guarini from DUST magazine I have found the best creative partners to collaborate with. They have a deep understanding and respect for the project and I know that they will put all of their strength into it. Below you can read their intensions of supporting the Lost Boys project.
Art direction by DUST Magazine
Dust is a biannual photography magazine about youth related existential themes. It is produced in Berlin and distributed worldwide, and puts emphasis on the awareness of the new generation.
We are proud to support and artistically direct new, two and a half years developed project of Joost Vandebrug. Artist's photography book is our main priority project alongside other current collaborations.
Tender pictures documents and portrays local homeless children community in Bucharest. Project differs from the usual documentations by showing a surprising side of the very expected reality: a sense of friendship, care, family, mutual protection and strong bonds that predominates the general sense of disgraceful existence. Pictures reveal strong connections that vividly emerge in the images and become a peculiar result of a unique situation.
Joost V. choose to narrate with his pictures one group of children and their relationships that functions as a big and unusual family where you will not find any sense of aggression, abuse, bullying, or hierarchic dynamics. They live in a world where there is (seems to be) no government, structures, social services and assistance. And thus these young human beings in need find themselves in group providing for their own existence and care.
Joost Vandebrug’s documentation is about beauty, bonds, youth and souls that are deprived of any perspectives. His eye is able to reach the needed solution in the core of the problem, this way managing to produce a non-typical documentation.
With this collaboration and the publishing of this book our strength and effort are directed not merely to raise questions and awareness , but more effectively to give these children support with the income of this project, giving them a chance to change their situation for the better, with a smart and site-specific intervention.
- Luigi and Luca - DUST´s editors
All of the footage has been shot, the travelling has been done and is paid for. I am now seeking support for the production costs of getting this book printed. Luigi and Luca are working closely with a printing house to get us the best deal in order to make a book that is appropriate for the intensity and intentions of the themes and subject matter of this project. As I’ve said before: all of the documenting has been done, I only need funding to print the book: so it can be published and distributed, so the more people can learn about these boys and stories alike.
As you will understand, this will and has been a labour of love and that all possible money raised from the sales of the books or the excess of the kickstarter funding will flow straight to the Lost Boys.
Other ways to help?
I am currently looking for a Romanian-speaking video editor who will have the daunting task to go through and edit 30+ hours of footage. This edit, whether it will be feature length or a 20mins short film, will be added to the book in the form of a DVD.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The Lost Boys will always be the Lost Boys, and I will not stop supporting them and their friends. The risks for this particular project are relatively small: all the ingredients are already there: I have the footage, and I’ve compiled an amazing team. Though Lost Boys – the project is now in his last phase, with the exciting time of selecting, curating and art directing the book ahead, I will always want continue to show the incredible sense of compassion and care of other lost boys and lost generations.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.