For more than 500 years, a shepherd community has existed on the “Velika Planina” [literally: big pasture] in Slovenia. Today, this tradition is disappearing.
The settlement is located only an hour’s drive from the country’s capital city, Ljubljana, but represents another world. On the Velika Planina, 1,600 meters [about 5,200 feet] above sea level, life begins at dawn and finishes at sundown. During the summer months, around 20 families move to the mountains to avoid buying fodder for their cattle in the valley. This way of life has remained more or less the same for the last few hundred years. Now, it seems that it will most likely disappear within a generation, as modernization hits even the most remote parts of Slovenia. In my four years of documenting the community, three families have stopped goading the cattle to the mountains, and they no longer live there during the season.
Indeed, in the current economic reality, most shepherds cannot survive solely on farming. Thus, they have taken on other jobs in the valley on weekdays. This means that the settlement is increasingly occupied by older members of the families and their grandchildren, who spend their summer vacations helping them. These pressures mean that this unique culture (and community) is literally disappearing in front of our eyes.
Editors’ note: Another series by Franko, “Cotton Black, Cotton Blue,” will be shown at FORMAT17, an international photography festival held in Derby, UK. This year’s edition runs from March 24-April 23, 2017, exploring the theme of HABITAT through varied narratives and imagery that document the worlds around us. Through the end of FORMAT17, we will be sharing some of our favorite photographers from the program. LensCulture Editor-in-Chief Jim Casper will also be on hand to review portfolios. We hope to see you there!
If you’re interested in seeing more work on this and similar topics, we’d recommend these previous features: Young Nomads: Child Horsemen of the Mongolian Plains, a series on the quickly disappearing traditions in Mongolia; Lands of No-Return, Viktoria Sorochinski’s documentation of the aging people, villages and customs in Ukraine; and A Common Story, a glimpse at how Greece’s economic crisis is upending the country’s long-held conventions and traditions.