This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.
Laurent Meurice, 39, came across Runina while taking pictures for a friend’s website. The small Slovakian village near the borders of Poland and Ukraine captivated the French-Belgian photographer, so he decided to get to know its 75 inhabitants, despite a significant language barrier.
Over the course of his many visits, Meurice shot so much material that he decided to publish it in a book, called Brut, or crude. “My goal was to take pictures of their private lives,” Meurice said. “At times, it was difficult for them to understand I wanted to photograph them in their homes.”
The only people who spoke English were the Orthodox priests who take mass in Runina’s church. “From experience, I know that priests are not particularly open to having their pictures taken,” said Meurice, who also works as a wedding photographer. But to his surprise, these clerics were not camera-shy.
As for the other inhabitants, bonding through language was not an option. Thankfully, they found another way to communicate: food. “Every time I went to someone’s house, be it at 8AM or 8PM, I was given food and drinks,” he said. “You feel like a child – you sit down, you are served and you don't argue.”
By “drinks”, he means locally-produced booze with an alcohol content of between 70 and 96 percent. “You are in a daze all the time, because you’re drinking all the time,” Meurice said.
Most of Meurice’s pictures are intimate portraits of daily life in a town whose population hasn’t grown in years. When he’d ask villagers questions about the future of their community, most said it was complicated. “There are people my age [in their thirties and forties] but no jobs,” Meurice said. “And since I published my book in May 2019, some people have already died.”
While Runina is stagnating, change is happening all around it. On the other side of the Polish border, loggers are destroying the forest and loading the wood on trucks which pass by the town on their way to factories – a reminder to the villagers that everything around them can disappear.
Scroll down to see more pictures from the book: