Yasmin Balai

Project Title: “Silver Linings”

Project Description

With the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, so fell a part of society. Under the pressure of the dictator’s abortion policies in order to increase the country’s population to strengthen the economy, Romania experienced drastic demographic changes. By that time, the majority of the population was already living in poverty, which made it impossible for those people to take care of their many children. Newborn babies were left at the hospitals or put into orphanages. Twenty-five years after the Romanian Revolution, the lack of medical and sexual education still leaves society struggling with a high number of abandoned children and homeless people, leading to issues like unemployment and severe drug abuse.

Silver Linings is a project that follows a group of altogether around 60 people that inhabit Bucharest’s underground central heating systems next to the main train station “Gara de Nord”. Together, they have built something resembling a home, creating a community beyond society. Almost everyone living in the tunnels, built during communism times, is addicted to “Pure by Magic”, a synthetic stimulant drug, injected several times a day. Therefore, nearly everyone suffers from diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis, or is infected with HIV. The most widespread drug in these marginalised communities is “Aurolac”, a silver paint huffed out of small bags, a cheap alternative way to get high. If only for a short time, it is a coping mechanism for the harsh reality of life on the streets, a symbol of each personal story of abuse and abandonment. It has become part of their life outside society, as well as a stigma of the loss of a nation’s identity during an era of transition between communism and capitalism, the fall and rise, and fall again of a promised land of wealth and success.

As part of the European Union, Romania’s ambition for growth and progress overpowers the need to offer a functioning support system for many homeless communities. People wish for them to disappear, to have them vanish from the streets and from society. The images aim to tell the story of people who are living in the shadow of the government, with hardly any medical, educational or financial support. Living at the fringe of society, their only power lies within the strength of community: to live in a shared place called home, underground.


Yasmin Balai (b.1990 in Erlangen) is a German-Iranian photographer, currently studying Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales. Prior to her studies, Yasmin has been living and working in Moldova and Italy for her photographic practice, as well as for her cultural and linguistic exchange and development.

Her projects are mainly based on her personal interest in the dynamics and representation of marginalised groups and communities, as well as the complexity of identity and history, both as an individual and as a community within society. Throughout her projects, Yasmin works in close contact with social workers and organisations involved in the communities’ daily lives, to be able to support and learn about her subjects in more depth.

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Posted by Thaddeus Pope

Thaddeus Pope is the Director of Visual Communications for The International Academic Forum (IAFOR) and the Creative Director of the IAFOR Documentary Photography Award.


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