The old-fashioned charm of post communist Romania is the first impression we feel with this book of photographs taken between 2007 and 2017, by Ovidiu Gordan. A bit like the feeling of going to see a friend who takes us through the streets and alleys of his village, then to the countryside.
As familiar as these places are, they are none the less singular. Ovidiu, with his camera, meticulously notes everything he meets and « finds ». He guides us through his country with a certain pride. He tells us his memories, the table of a restaurant he frequents, the cat he often meets on his daily journey and tries in vain to approach. Without knowing Romania, we can let ourselves be carried away by the narrative, this book tells us stories, it leaves priority to in our imagination, like this old Dacia, a copy of the French Renault 12 owned by a person who was dear to us… what has become of her?
We see nothing of the country, or perhaps, on the contrary, we really see it, in the sense of understanding it. No postcards or clichés, the photographs follow the rhythm of our wanderings. When a couple passes by, Ovidiu whispered to us the singular story of these two people. Old photos on the wall, hanged on a decayed wallpaper tell the story of a time when Romania was under the yoke of Ceausescu couple. The photos alternate scenes of incredible precision, as frozen timeless, and other moments vaporous, bathed in blur and fog. Things do not come out spontaneously, you have to make yourself available, give them attention, to find their preciousness. We meet people too, of course, some people who we dare to approach and others we do not want to disturb.
Time passes and we have to leave this friend. The book goes on and familiarity sets in, and becomes our own. We recognize signs, the local culture permeates us, a woman, met on the road, smiles, we are no longer strangers.
The book is endearing in many ways. The principal is certainly the generosity that he transmits which remains in us, after having traveled through those « Familiar places ». There is a need in Ovidiu to seize these moments, to tell their reality, as if we need to be convinced of our own existence. Capturing these little non-events, this collection of little things that we collect every day to keep them preciously in a notebook of memories, until we meet them again, a bit like the book « I remember » by Georges Perec that he presented as: « small pieces of daily life, things that, a year or another, all people of the same age have seen, lived, shared, and which then disappeared, have been forgotten; they were not worthy of being part of history, nor of being included in Memoirs of statesmen, mountaineers, and sacred monsters. Sometimes, however, they come back, a few years later, intact and tiny, by chance or because they have been looked for, one night, with friends. »
Hardcover book selfpublished in 2018. 23 x 23 cm.,108 pages with 52 black and white and color photographs.
More info : https://www.ovidiugordan.com/
It’s been a while since my last post, so today is a batch of seven Romanian photobooks.
Let me start first with two books by Oliver Merce. They are both the result of a long term project conducted in Anina County in Romania where Ceausescu dreamed to build an enourmous power plant complex.
The first book is « The anatomy of decay ». Through several chapters, all in black and white photographs, Oliver presents us the two main entities in the district of Anina: the petrified city of Crivina and “The New Town” which was built to accompany the future development of the area.
The New Town is the megalomaniacal aspiration of a dictator: building a city ex nihilo, not in function of classical geomorphological considerations, but just because of an unbelievable desire to mark his reign with traces of his power. Gigantic buildings appear on the horizon, on a ridge, huge abandoned carcasses among which roar phantoms that have no other place to live, prisoners in this void!
In Crivina, we discover a population that is busy with everyday tasks, among concrete and steel wastes left behind after the power plant was stopped. After years of hope in a modern, better world, most of them have returned to agrarian tasks, while immense abandoned cathedrals of concrete punctuate the landscape in which they work. The contrast is striking between this decayed technology and the vernacular traditions. Oliver is always close to the people, showing great empathy. The book is classical, sober and generous. We really take the time to immerse ourselves in the heart of these populations, to live with them, to understand them.
More d’info : http://www.olivermerce.ro/book-order/books/
The second book, or rather a booklet, is named « Juju ».
The book has been published by Oliver Udy in what is called the « Antler Documents » series. In this publication, Oliver Merce focus on an inhabitant of Crivina and offers us a beautiful portrait. Juju was a talented musician and philosophy passionate, but his father decided that he had to join the army, finally becoming a Civil Engineer. That’s how he started working in Anina, until the accident in 2006 which forced the mine to close.
Now Juju is still living in the old building where he used to work, at the margin of the society. The book is constructed with a great empathy and it is almost impossibile not to fall in love with Juju ! This is the perfect companion book of « The anatomy of decay ».
More info : http://www.antlerpress.co.uk/juju.html
Another work takes us into the mountains area, accompanied by a shepherd named Ion.
Ion is the title of the book by Gabriel Amza who has spent a week by his side, last year, in the Sureanu Mountains, documenting his everyday life. In the company of Ion, his dog and his family, we discover black and white photographs of a pastoralism that exists only in the rural world furthest from the cities. Secular traditions transmitted generations after generations have often been erased by urbanism and capitalism. Profitability, efficiency have gained the upper hand over a way of living in relation to the environment. In this book Gabriel Amza takes time to understand what rhythms life in the countryside; the cycle of days, animals, nature and seasons. Ion lives in symbiosis with the mountain around, and the book alternates the naturalist views of these majestic landscapes with small scenes of the ordinary and touching daily life.
We confront here a documentary photography close to the subject and after a few pages, we feel like being at home with the main character, talking to Ion, understanding what animates him. The photos are precisely framed and they plunge us into the world of the shepherd, in these small details that make his daily life.
Personally, the reproach that I would make to the book is the choice of an accordion binding, which brings no adding value. Reading the images one after the other, it becomes rather embarrassing because it does not restore the intensity of each moment lived. It does not really give justice to the slowness of the ambaince.
From static oblivion, by Ion Grigorescu is a book recently published by the young Publisher Avarie whose it is only the third book.
Using many contemporary techniques, Ion Grigorescu is one of the most reknown Romanian artist from the communist period. Painter, photographer, film maker and performer, this book is a kind of anthology of his long career. The book itself is a performance, mixing different techniques in a collage, pages after pages. We are completely immerged in his work, with notes, photograms or extracts of videos of his performances, texts that tells us the genesis of certain actions, all chanted, as a pattern that repeats until exhaustion. This exhaustion to which he could have been subject from the communist authorities and the censorship.
The book is chronological, we go through a decade alongside Ion, his style evolves, his actions also, we get lost in ellipses, we go through a story told by photographs, drawings… The book is very dense, the whole printed on a very fine paper, with the sensation of going through fragile moments. It is not easy to talk about this book but holding it in your hands is an experience in itself. Really a great discovery!
Costică Acsinte was born in 1897, during WW I, he’ll be an official war photographer, before opening, in 1920, his own photo studio « Foto Splendid C. Acsinte » in Slobozia.
In 1985, the Ialomița County History Museum aquires more than 5000 photographic plates made by Acsinte between 1935–1945, and since 1991, all images are into Public Domain. The museum has been recently publishing a few books of his work which are definitely brilliant. The volume presented here is called Social life (Viața socială) and is a fantastic collection of group and single portraits. The photographs are sorted by thematic series, farmers, school photographs, musicians, sport, traditions, leisures… and we discover a wonderful testimonial of the Romanian life in the first half of XXth century !
All images are printed rather small, probably at the negative size or slightly larger. Some of them bear the beautiful traces of time with cracked gelatin or burned part which sometime give even the photos an added aesthetics value.
Well I may add here a book which is not stricly speaking a photobook, but a large photojournalist work about the Armenian community in Romania.
« Armenians in Romania. The stories of the people close to us. » by Andreea Tanase is a 3 years long project. During those years Andreea explored sixteen different cities in Romania where Armenians settled after leaving their country in 1915 when the Armenian genocide occured. She mainly focused around the Armenian Church as a positive pole of the community, as the Church has always kept a important role to gather the people. All the photos are very insightful and at the closest of the people. We share their moments during daily events of their life, with some beautiful and touching portraits. A very interesting book for those interested by this important part of history.
More info : http://www.andreeatanase.com/
Finally, to complete this series of books, a last work that comes from Belgium and whose subject is Romania. Tomas Bachot revisits the codes of the documentary in his book « Those who eat fish from the cyanide lake improve their sex life ».
After a discussion with Matei, a Romanian guy he met during a student job, who told him about the problems related to the reopening of the gold mines in Romania, he decided, in 2015, to go there for a reportage.
Tomas started to show his first pictures to his hosts who were immediately shocked by his images, by what he was showing of their country. Tomas realized that he came to take pictures with a connotated vision of Romania, and that he was finally only looking for confirmation. This observation made him to question his work and thus became more interested by the essence of the reportage : what is objectivity and, moreover, what does it mean ? Tomas shared his time with his subjects by bus from Belgium where he lives until Romania. He slept with them, showed them his photos, talked about the reasons of his journey… and finally through this book, Tomas questions the codes of representation. How everyone clearly shows, in a way, what he meets on his way. The title of the book is a sentence from the mayor of a village located in the Golden Quadrilateral in the Apuseni Mountains of Transylvania, in order to affirm that groundwater poisoning due to the exploitation of gold mines can be a blessing. The book is therefore very well named and this is how Tomas will unfold it, constantly confronting his point of view with the one of his hosts, being very often on the verge of confrontation. The tension is palpable, as when talking with the father of a young girl photographed or with a social worker who reproaches him to spread a false image of Romania. And the point of view is also sometimes reversed, when a farmer from Rovina tells us about his idea of Belgium.
This is finally, far beyond the photographs themselves, what is interesting with this book. Tomas does not hide anything and sometimes the doubts and questions of his hosts seem legitimate! All these pictures are images of everyday life, images that appear to us « without qualities » (in the sense of the book of Robert Musil) and which, therefore, become universal.
The book is in the form of three notebooks containing photographs and excerpts from his diary, accompanied by a reproduction of an anonymous photograph on glass plate that was offered to him.
What can photography be used for ? Paul’s response is particularly successful. This medium was able to restore some meaning to his existence and, above all, enabled him to communicate. Never photography has much deserved its name as “medium”. Difficult childhood, with a few problems, Paul wandered into the wrong direction. Admittedly, both in childhood and in adolescence, the temptations are many. Fortunately for him, from the depth of his depression, the turning point came: he had to resume his life; an old film camera will be the perfect tool. This is how Paul tells his story in the introduction of the book. We have not yet discovered the photographs, it will come in a few pages …
Through photography, Paul finds his way. He finally manages to move on, but more specifically, to communicate without the use of violence. His gaze is poetic and the world around him is changing, it is no more hostile; but his photos remain black, dense, loaded with emotions. We feel some anger that emerges, but it is not turned anymore against its author, it is magnified. Thus we follow Paul in his daily life. He claims us his life, he demonstrates these sixteen years of existence. These photos are a compilation or, rather a emotional view of the author : one could speak of state of mind.
The book is a long sad poetry as chanted on an uncertain (even unprecise due to the beautiful youth) rhythm. If we see scenes of joy, dark shadows lurk yet, ready to snap up the young man to his past. These shadows become real, sometimes, and take the appearance of aggressive dogs, dark figures or blurred faces. Paul takes us with him to find his way, the tempo is slow, a photo every two pages, always on the right, facing a blank page, like to be conscious every time of what is happening; to let the image be printed on our retina. One hesitates to move forward, we slowly follow the mood of Paul, crossing his fears and doubts, but also his hopes. Throughout the book the horizons are blocked, we look more to the ground than in the air. The space is too small for his own development. Yet the book ends with birds flying above a roof. The cathartic exercise has paid off and allowed him to finally to take off as all teenagers have to do; the path to adulthood !
Arrived at the end of the book, one discovers torn pages. It is then for us to imagine the gap. A hidden history, erased, abandoned. It remains hidden sides in Paul story, things he does not reveal to us, but isn’t it the case for all of us? This is what makes us human and makes us feel some empathy for each other. Well, this is what makes the story of Paul so moving. We close the book on sticks for counting the days of the end of a virtual confinement: the pain is over, Paul can now move forward.
In conclusion, this book is from a simple facture, but is really effective. The pictures are very beautiful and it exudes a certain emotion. With some generosity, Paul shares with us his feelings, he tells us his moods. Whether we love or not, it is devilishly daring, at sixteen to show oneself so honestly, and for that also, this book is great! I would love to see those photographs printed large in a gallery. I should also mention Cristian Bassa, a Romanian photographer who has been the supporter of this work and who did the edit / design of the book, and wrote the afterword.
Limited signed first edition of 100 copies, hardcover book 21x21cm, 80 Pages black and white photos (rather black than white).
More info : http://cargocollective.com/PaulMusescu