June 5, 2017Comments are off for this post.

Interview with photographer Cosmin Bumbuț

© Cosmin Bumbuț

Cosmin Bumbuț is a romanian photographer who used to work in the fashion and advertising industry. He later gave up this lifestyle and decided to switch to documentary photography and live in a camper. I've talked to him about his decision to make that move, how it is to live as a freelancer and the stories he's telling through photography.

This interview was first published on Documentaria, a photojournalism platform created by a group of amazing people who want to show, through photography and facts, bits and pieces of Romania.

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You’ve been working as an independent photographer since 1993. How is it to live like this?

I can’t remember how it is to live other than as a freelancer. The last time I’ve been employed was as a photographer for the Nottara theatre. I had to photograph new shows and to enlarge the photographs from the plays. To enlarge, not to print, because I did did in a classical way in their lab, where I developed films and optically enlarged photographs. I had an enlarger which, in order to make the 50x70 photographs that were to be exposed in the window, I had to turn it upside down on the table to project the image on the floor. I enjoyed working at the theatre, I liked the community there and the fact that my colleagues were actors.

As a freelancer you are alone, just you and your assistant, and you develop a sort of conjunctural friendship with various clients you get along well or work more often with. Sometimes you can chose what to work on. On the other hand, there is always a stress when the phone doesn’t ring for a long period of time and you’re afraid no one will ever call and that’s it with your career.

But now, I do a different type of freelancing - since I’ve given up fashion I’m not interested in the commercial side anymore and I stay away from the advertising industry. When I turned 40 I realised I didn’t want to do that anymore and I want to work on projects I believe in. Now it’s harder to live from freelancing - and to work only on subjects that interest me - since it was when I did fashion and advertising. Nonetheless, since november 2013 when I moved in a camper with my girlfriend, my costs dropped considerably. The less money you need to live, the more freedom you get to do what you like. Today I live from grants and from the money I get from the postcards. Those who follow our projects on Teleleu.eu - the website me and Elena publish our stories about today’s Romania - can support us through buying subscriptions to our postcards: once every two weeks I print and send via post a photograph from the places we travel to. Even though I earn much less then when I worked as a commercial photographer, the support we get from these people moves me and offers me a greater satisfaction: I feel that my photographs matter and all these people who support me appreciate my work.

What triggered the switch from commercial to documentary photography and what changes did this decision bring with it?

I took the Bumbata photographs during a full commercial period, probably at its peak, when I was very well paid both in fashion and advertising. My trips to Aiud were like small getaways, I didn’t have layouts to respect, art directors to please and deadlines for yesterday. I photographed in my own rhythm, with lots of mistakes which (I hope) I corrected along the way, I learnt to interact with other people from different fields that I usually used to photograph. And all these things overlaid with a period in my life where I finally figured out that money, fame, a house and a new car don’t bring happiness.

I needed a couple of years to convince myself of this and another couple to find the courage to admit that it’s more important to be proud of what I was going to do from then on than the money I earned up to that point. So I changed the first question I asked my customers from “how much money will you pay me?” to “how does the project look like?”.

North Train station, Bucharest, 1992 © Cosmin Bumbuț

You’ve started posting on Facebook and Instagram old photographs you took in the ‘90. What that experience meant to you and how does it feel to rediscover the photographs now?

The ‘90s was a period of good schooling for me. I was lucky enough not to have money for films and shoot less than I’d liked to or not be able to develop a subject that I felt had the potential, because my film was over. I believe in the first years, 1990 -1993, I shot an average of two films a week. I was lucky with the magazine Dilema, which payed for my films and developers for several years and, for the first time, I could put Kodak films into my camera.

Since 2004, I’ve archived everything I shot on film from 1992 to 2008 when I started shooting exclusively on digital cameras. I’ve gathered about 75 000 images scanned at 700 px. Last winter I looked over the photographs shot in the ‘90s and I told myself to scan some of them at maximum resolution, see how they looked and how they hold on, on a bigger screen. Besides the cloth that stuck in the emulsion from the developing of 20 years ago, the images seem ok. What’s odd is the fact that despite my memory is bad - I forget people’s names I recently met, I forget things that happened - I haven’t forgotten any image from those I shot on film, I haven’t forgotten where I took it or how I felt in that moment.

Visually impaired, Bucharest, 1994 © Cosmin Bumbuț

Has your perspective on the subjects or on photography in general changed in any way?

It’s nice to see those images; I discover my way of thinking back then or how I didn’t interact; I see my shyness and lack of experience and, more than anything, the fact that I hadn’t developed or shot more than one subject because I didn’t have films. I used the normal lens and medium telephoto lens more, while now I use more the medium superangular and very rare the normal lens. I also became more courageous and I managed to overcome my fear of interacting with the subject.

Cosmin Bumbut

Apa Sărată, Maramureș, 1993 © Cosmin Bumbuț

Do you have something in mind with this series?

I didn’t plan anything at first, but posting a part of them on Instagram and Facebook I instantly received positive feedback and encouragements to publish them in an album. Now I’m thinking about it, maybe I will make it, but for the moment I still have a lot of scanning to do to finish the 90’s - 2000. My images from a different century.

On the website you and Elena tell stories about people. What impact had these stories on your lives?

It’s strange that we recently remembered moments from past years, from the times we documented stories on domestic violence and people opened up to us and talked to us about their traumas. Of course they charged as emotionally, some of our friends who we used to tell about the things we saw or heard recommended us a psychologist.

We used to unbent by doing a different type of work, this is how we documented the bisons from Târgu Neamț: I didn’t want to hear about anything sad and we went into a forest to tell a story about wild animals.

© Cosmin Bumbuț

By now you’ve photographed stories of people who live in Cuba, people who live in prisons, kids with rare diseases and other hard topics. Which of them put you out of your comfort zone the most?

The hardest thing was to photograph the sick children. We were at Center Noro in Oradea, I photographed in a part of the building, Elena took interviews in a different one. Our camper was parked in the yard and we met there periodically to cry without being seen. When we saw each other with tears in the corners of our eyes we bursted into laughter and mock ourselves: “such a pro!”

Intermediates for health” is a project that shows how simple people change the life of their peers for the better. Do you think projects like this can generate similar behaviours in those who see the photographs?

Yes, definitely. The people who do these things feel encouraged when someone tells their story, when someone is interested and cares about their work, and those who hear about these stories find out they can do a something, that there are solutions and that you must be willing to make an effort to help.

© Cosmin Bumbuț

What responsibility do you feel towards the people you’re photographing?

First of all I respect them. I’d like them to feel relaxed around me, even if I have the camera close to my eye. I don’t photograph them in possible embarrassing situations, because if you spend enough time with your subject you get to see that too. So I show them that by taking the camera from my face in those moments. I believe you can’t get their trust and honesty without it. All these things will show in the final photographs.

On the website you mention you live from grants, collaborations and postcard subscriptions. Do you think documentary photography can become a sellable product for the general public?

No. Right now the online space is too saturated with images and photography stories of any kind that it’s difficult to convince someone to pay money to see yours. I can’t see a mechanism for this at the moment, but it’s clear that photojournalism and documentary photography are reinventing themselves. The future is crowdfunding and donations coming from an educated audience who understands that.  

How difficult is it to work on long term projects from a financial point of view?

We have far less money than we had when I was a commercial photographer and Elena was deputy editor in chief at Marie Claire. When we have money we spend them, when we don’t we cook beans and potatoes. Our needs are smaller than they were back when we payed rent in Bucharest. We can spend as much time as we need on a subject we’re documenting. The cost equals the cost of the period we don’t work. We don’t pay rent because we live in the car, food is cheaper, we don’t do restaurants because we don’t have to socialise in expensive places anymore, a great part of our electric needs are coming through solar energy, we ask water from people and the gas is expensive but if we spend more time in the same place it doesn’t matter. When you live in a camper it’s very easy to work on long term projects, but to get to live there,  that’s a different story 🙂

What are 3 important things someone who want to pursue documentary photography needs to learn or know?

To photograph only subjects that she likes or she understands, to be open minded and non judgemental, to learn to listen better than she photographs.

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March 8, 2017Comments are off for this post.

Interview with photojournalist Mircea Reștea

Mircea Reștea is a contributing photographer for Documentaria, a project created to showcase, through documentary photography, written stories and infographics, fragments of reality of Romanian life. Mircea has been a photojournalist for seventeen years and starting with 2013 he’s been working as a freelancer.

© Mircea Reștea

The main focus of the Elections 2014, a project created by the team of Decât o Revistă (Just a Magazine), was to document the presidential election campaign in Romania. What did you think of this initiative in relation to the Romanian journalistic landscape?

DOR’s role was decisive: they didn’t just funded us, they also build the online platform where we’ve published the photographs. In addition, they offered us the opportunity to work with a team of exceptional reporters. I don’t think I’ve seen something like this in Romania before.

The event was covered by four photographers: you, Ioana Moldovan, Alexandra Dincă and Andrei Pungovschi. Tell me about your work process - how did you organize, communicate and edit the photographs?

Each of us followed a candidate and the photographs got published as we had them. Andrei edited as well but we all tried to take part in the editing process. This was one of the things I mostly enjoyed about this project, I found it very interesting to see how everyone worked. Then the editing itself it’s a very instructive process, especially when we all managed to meet.

© Mircea Reștea

How was it for you to document the campaign of Klaus Iohannis? How much access did you have and how was the interaction between the two of you?

It was one of the most interesting projects I’ve had so far. My enthusiasm was even bigger because it was the first time when I could photograph politics without being afraid the images will be used differently than previously decided. Unfortunately, the access to the candidate was very limited. Except a couple of visits to some factories I’ve photographed public events.

For this reason I think this part ( the candidate and everything that’s related to campaign backstage) is a failure. But things were better regarding my other objective: show a portrait of his supporters.

© Mircea Reștea

How was the interaction between the candidate and the public?

This took place generally in mass meetings, specifically during the “crowd bathings” which started and ended the meetings. It mostly meant hand shaking and photographs. At the launch of the candidate’s book, there was a long session of book signing and small jokes with the public.

© Mircea Reștea

You have many years of photography behind you. Tell me about your experience and the things you’ve learnt from your previous projects.

I can’t tell if 17 years are a lot or not. What I find important is that I enjoy doing what I do and I try to learn continuously from others and from my own failures, which are more than a few. One thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes it’s good to give up - publishing a photograph, even if you really like it, a subject or even a project. Lately I’ve been trying to work only at those projects where I can get the access I want and this is because not having enough access is the cause of most of my giving up.

What is documentary photography to you and how do you see it developing?

I don’t know how it will evolve but I’m glad I can still do it because for me, photographing is a way of being. I’m also pleased to see we have good photographers who manage to do high quality documentary photography.  

Want to see more of Mircea’s photographs and projects? Visit his portfolio.

Note: This interview was first published on Documentaria.

 

February 22, 2017Comments are off for this post.

Ciprian Hord – Out of the dark

Ciprian, 37, started photographing at 29. Because he discovered late what he really wanted to do, he says now he has to work hard to make up for the lost time.

For him documentary photography means to depict reality through simple, powerful and straightforward images, in order to show as much as possible the truth of a scene or a story. And in order to show the essence of things you need time. That’s why many projects in this field require a lot of time, even years to complete. I’ve spoken to him on behalf of Documentaria about one of his ongoing projects and his thoughts on the current state of documentary photography.

Aurel, a blind teacher, relaxes and listens to a football match. Drobeta-Turnu Severin, Romania, 2016.

Out of the dark is a project about the life of people with visual impairments. How did you end up working on it?

I haven’t been photographing in a while and I started this project to get out of a bad, morass period I’ve gotten into. I don’t remember how the idea came to me, all I know is I needed a subject. Preferably one that would interest someone else, not just me. Maybe it was also an unconscious drive that pushed me towards people who cannot see: visual communication is essential to me and I can’t imagine how I could live without it.

What is the significance of the title of your project?

A while ago I applied with these photographs to a grant offered by a US foundation and it was then when I first named it Out of the dark. I’ve been searching for an equivalent in Romanian since then. I want the lives of these people to get out of “the dark” and for us see. We who are often more blind than they are, to see how they live, how they work, how they have fun and how they love. We pass them by on the street, see them with their white stick and our hearts melt for a second, but we soon forget. I want to know more about them and show others as well.

And I can tell a little story here, one that could be funny if it wasn’t sad. I knew that Adrian, a person who is visually impaired, will attend a concert at the Arad Philharmonic accompanied for the first time by a service dog he had just received. I called the Director of the Philharmonic, told him about it and asked for permission to take some photographs during the concert. His reaction was: “Why bother taking photographs, they’re blind anyway, they won’t be able to see them”. I don’t think I need more to prove myself that what I do has a purpose.

Adrian at the concert, accompanied by his service dog, Max. Arad, Romania, 2014.

What have you learnt working on this project and what message do you want to convey through it?

I’ve learnt that we can do almost anything if we work hard and don’t give up easily.

I don’t intend to be a moralist, but I sincerely believe that if we knew how these people live, we’d complain less about small salaries, lack of parking spots and other similar problems. Maybe we’d even manage to rearrange our priorities.  

Through these photographs I want to show that people with visual impairments are just like us, the difference being that they’re forced to put out more effort than someone who’s able to see. That’s why amongst them you’ll find strong people, endowed with certain qualities and skills which often exceed those of people who can see. Of course, not all of them manage to adapt perfectly to this disability and that’s precisely why we need to understand them better and help them overcome some difficulties.

Every morning, Ovidiu takes his son to the kindergarten. Arad, Romania, 2014.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions regarding people who are visually impaired?

The biggest misconception I identified is the idea they are helpless, that we need to pity them. The result is an overly protective and completely unhelpful behaviour. Furthermore, this misconception is also present in the manner in which state institutions relate to these people. It’s not enough to give them a disability allowance, an allowance for accompanying and other gratuities. Most of them would take a greater advantage if they had personal and professional development opportunities, to help them become financially independent.

Raducu Trailescu is the only blind priest in Romania. Drobeta Turnu-Severin, Romania, July 2016. © Ciprian Hord

What are the biggest difficulties blind people face?

There are plenty: there’s a lack of accessibility for blind people in pedestrian traffic (acoustic traffic lights, tactile warnings) in public transportation, in public institutions, in stores. There’s a lack of online optimal accessibility, insufficient funds for assistance dogs and other supporting materials. But the biggest problem is having an inadequate training system for the blind. Thus, they can’t develop skills and abilities that are looked for in the work field. Not all of them must get a job in the “Brushes and brooms” department just like before 1989, and now not even those jobs exist anymore. Not having a job and an income can lead to restrictions of their social activity and to social isolation. I believe these matters should be a priority for those in charge with making the laws in this country.

Tell me about one of your favorite photographs in this project.
There’s one photograph I like, with Aurel and Florin, splashing around in the pool. The people from the visually impaired association in Arad organized a getaway at the thermal pool in Dorobanți. I started to picture horror scenarios right from the bus. I was the only one able to swim and see and my lifeguard skills are not that great. But to my joy, they were changing water in the pools that day and the water level would only reach the knees. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop my friends to have a lot of fun there and I could get into the water with my camera and photograph from the same level. I imagine we gave quite an amusing show - two grown men splashing in the water and a third one, in his underwear, carrying a big camera and photographing them.

Aurel and Florin having fun in the pool. Both of them are blind. Dorobanți, Romania, 2015.

What impact did your photographs have after publishing them?

The project is not finished, I still have a lot of work to do and I’m not exactly happy with the results so far. Some of the photographs were published here and there. The feedback was very positive, although I don’t know if these appreciations managed to change something regarding people’s attitudes towards the people who are blind. If this didn’t happen it’s only my fault and it means I need to work more and make better pictures.

Why did I chose photography? I'm going to paraphrase Garry Winogrand and tell you that I have a burning desire to see what the world looks like photographed by me. I'm incurably curious.

What do you think is the role of documentary photography now, when we have instant access to information?

This is a favorable moment for documentary photography because it can distance itself from the breaking-news part. Everyone can easily make live videos, take photographs with their phones and upload them instantly on social media platforms or news websites. Documentary photography can’t and it shouldn’t compete with this phenomenon, this is not its purpose. There are a lot of people willing to know stories which are not presented in the social media, interesting stories, photographed with passion and dedication.

Florin taking a photograph with his phone. Orșova, România, 2016.

Is documentary photography a niche or can it be turned into a sellable and accessible product for the general public?

This is a really hard question. It can be a dream job if you wouldn’t be forced to live with insecurity and be on a continuous race after funding sources for the projects you're working on. People in Romania are not ready yet to pay for a premium media product. Yet. Nonetheless, I’m sure that things will start to change. But the support for documentary photography is an international issue. We are forced to look for alternative funding, chase scholarships, collaborate with NGOs, private companies, photograph weddings and baptisms to support our documentary projects. But despite the harsh conditions, Romania has very good photographers who work on beautiful and important projects. And even if he doesn't sees himself as a documentary photographer, I have to mention Vadim Ghirda who just got a prize at the Word Press Photo. And that’s a thing not many can do. So we do have photographers.


How important do you think visual culture is for the general public. Is visual education still present in Romania and who do you think should teach it?

If the photographs are powerful they will have an impact even for people who don’t have a so-called visual culture. What bothers me though is the lack of visual culture on the side of people who are in charge with the visual aspect of various publications in our country. Competent photo editors have disappeared from the offices because there are no more money for such things. Shame. I believe the taste of the broader audience forms through the product you deliver not the other way around. It’s not nice to blame it on the public who only asks for sensational and quantity.

Follow Ciprian's work on his website or on his Instagram account.