Jost Franko wasn’t yet 18 when he started taking photos; unable to get a press pass or a driver’s license at such a tender age, he went looking for stories close to home, a small town near Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana.
That’s how he ended up visiting Velika Planina, a herder’s settlement tucked high in the nearby Kamnick Alps, for four summers.
When the grazing lands in the valleys of the Kamnik region start to brown with the onset of summer, the herders start their alpine journey to Velika Planina, which literally means “big pasture.” Families with smaller cattle herds can transport them in trucks, but others have too many and must walk the animals, traveling at night to avoid the summer heat.
On his first visit to the valley, Franko made the overnight journey with a family and its 40 cows. Once at the mountain settlement, word traveled fast, and the young photographer got to know the other 20 families quickly. “They sort of just expected me to be there at the beginning of the season,” he says. “For some of them, I would also be the only regular contact or link with civilization, so I often got calls from them to bring them food and supplies from the city.”
Velika Planina is believed to be more than 500 years old. Today, it’s mostly occupied by older people, who are joined by their grandchildren during the holidays; working-age family members mostly stay in the city, where they have better paying jobs.
Midway through the project, a widow and her friend became prominent characters in Franko’s photographs. The two women were often the last to leave the mountains, staying there alone well into the fall. Franko says they understood clearly why he was photographing Velika Planina.
Dragica and Fani also became Franko’s main points of contact within the mountain settlement. When he asked them to let him know when a cow would be giving birth, they asked the other herders to brief them on due dates. Franko received the call as he was driving home from a photography festival in France. He sped home, got his gear, and drove to the settlement, but it was a false alarm. “I got another call a few hours later in the morning, saying that this time it’s for real,” explains Franko. “And I got the shot.” —Pauline Eiferman