With a grant and letters of introduction from the Chancellor’s Office of the University of California, Berkeley and under the direction of master photographer William Garnett, Neil Folberg at age 21 set out for the Socialist Republic of Macedonia in April 1971 to photograph a people on their rugged land. He planned to spend six months in Yugoslav Macedonia making a series of documentary images. Before departing, he spent time in the Dorothea Lange Archives at the Oakland Museum poring over Lange’s original proofs and contact sheets in order to refine his own approach and goals. In her stark images, she had been able to delineate a time and place in unpretentious images that reflected the strength and character of her subjects. With these images in mind, Folberg traveled to Macedonia, having spent two years learning the language and studying the culture of the area.
Folberg wrote in a letter from Macedonia, “The peasants, who are so eager to share their modest homes with strangers, live balanced between reality and nightmare. They don’t love the land, they fear it. They work hard, always hard – sometimes the land yields, sometimes it doesn’t. Remember how strange it seemed when we read that the women believed that their husbands turned into werewolves? Here it seems almost believeable. The obsession with death is evident and life is only a temporary death defying act.”