Romania, behind the beyond
An interview with photographer Vlad Dumitrescu
Many of us follow people on Social Media that inspire us, motivate us or simply make us day dream about places we’ve been or we wish to go. It’s a guilty pleasure that we indulge in with or without moderation.
One of the people we follow religiously and with great anticipation is Vlad Dumitrescu, a Romanian photographer on a quest to immortalise a way of life that is slowly fading away. His portraits are vivid reminders of our childhood years or the summer holidays spent at our grandparents’ in the countryside.They are the essence of what Romania means to us, Romanians, and an invitation to travel deeper not wider for those who wish to discover our country differently and in tune with its people and nature.
We were curious to find out more about Vlad and his passion for photography and the Romanian village, so we invited him to be our storyteller for today.
Do bear in mind that he can also be your local expert, photography guru, treasure keeper and “road opener” on your future trip to Romania. Just let us know!
1. Where did you grow up? What are your fondest childhood memories?
I was born and bred in Brasov. That’s my home. I didn’t even have grandparents in the countryside. They lived in Campulung Muscel, in a small apartment building. As a child, I used to spend all my holidays there. It was my blissful escape. Wandering on the hills surrounding the town was my favourite pastime. That’s why I’m emotionally connected with those lands. I still travel to Campulung Muscel every year.
Memories from my childhood? Discovering the villages around Campulung, bathing each summer in Raul Targului, the river that crosses the town. I remember I had two friends there and we used to tell scary stories till late into the night. In Brasov I used to hike in the mountains with my father and some of his friends almost every weekend. I loved that.
2. When did you discover photography and how has it all started?
I’ve travelled ever since I can remember. Mostly in Romania, of course. In 2008 a cousin of mine was selling his old camera, a Sony. My wife insisted that I should buy it, to take it with us on our trips. So I did. And I started to bring it with us everywhere. I was travelling and taking photos at the same time and I began to like it very much. Without knowing it, I’ve started to travel to take photos. And since then, that’s what I do.
3. Who influenced you the most? Is there a photographer that you look up to in particular?
There are many photographers that I like. Dan Dinescu, Peter Korniss, Ernest Bernea… But I don’t know if I can say that one influenced my work. Maybe all of them did.
4. Anybody following you on social media knows that Vlad Dumitrescu = soul-stirring portraits. Why portraits and not nature? Romania is blessed with breathtaking landscapes.
I like to think that I tell stories with my images. And people tell stories. In the beginning, I used to photograph everything: flowers, landscapes, animals… But very soon I discovered people photography. And since then I’ve looked for them in my images. I like to meet them, to spend time with them before shooting. And very often I hear amazing stories from them. I enjoy bringing home and sharing with others a little bit of what I’ve experienced.
5. Your portraits are very dramatic and touching. Each one of them tells a compelling story about the person in it. Who are those people and how do you find them?
Many of the people that I photograph now, became in time, my friends. Now, we meet as friends, we chat a lot and from time to time I take photos. But I’m also keen to meet new people. I try to travel as much as I can and I always meet people. That’s how I travel.
6. In your opinion, what is most important to consider while shooting portrait pictures, especially of common people who have probably never seen a professional camera in their life?
I would tell all people-photography enthusiasts that the most important thing is not to forget that there is a human being standing in front of us. She has feelings and she does us a great favour allowing us into her life. At the end of your interaction he/she must remain with a nice memory. We must not treat people as objects to attain our goal…
7. Can you share with us a story, an experience, an encounter with one of the many people in your portraits that particularly impressed you, transformed you, inspired you to make changes to your life?
I really don’t know which one to choose. Hard, very hard… Each encounter changes you a bit. OK, I will talk about one. I’ve recently posted on Instagram an image with a man I met 5 years ago in Tinutul Padurenilor, Hunedoara county. I was walking slowly through the village when I saw him cutting wood in his courtyard. We started to talk over the fence and he invited me in his modest house filled with old pictures and memories. We sat down and chat quietly about life. He lived alone and was extremely welcoming. His monthly retirement pension was 15 lei. 15 lei!!! After years of contribution… But despite all this, he remained a great person. Very warm and dignified.
8. We live in a fast paced world. Everything is fast: the food, the fashion, the travel… life. We follow people who succeed, who achieve the impossible, who are always on the move and in search for something new and more challenging. Why did you choose to go against the wave, and photo-document the exact opposite of that: a slow paced world where people’s hearts beat with the pulses of their land and in harmony with nature?
Because there, in the countryside, is where I find my peace. For me, there is nothing more beautiful than being in a nice village and hearing a story from a wonderful character. In those moments, you can lose track of yourself. You can forget about everything that is not important. Those moments are what makes me go further with photography, with documenting the rural life of this country that I really love.
9. When I look at your photos I see a world I considered long gone. Does this world still exist? Are the people in your photos the last of their kind?
Like any other place on the planet, Romania is changing. At a fast pace. I find it more and more difficult to find what I am looking for. I visit places I like and every time I find them a little different. Modernism is cutting deeper and deeper into our traditions and customs. Yes, I am documenting a generation and a way of life, which in a few years will probably disappear if we do nothing to preserve it.
10. Basically when you embark on a photo journey in Romania, you travel not only in space but also in time. What are the expectations and reactions of those who visit Romania for the first time and choose to join you on a photographic journey?
Many travellers are surprised by the hospitality of the locals. By the fact that they get invited into people’s homes, without even knowing them. For many, Romania is a reminder of their childhood years, of holidays spent with their grandparents. During the harvesting time or during holidays, our customs and traditions go directly to their heart. And everyone is absolutely impressed by the beautiful scenery. I’ve had travellers who joined me three times already and they still wish to return…
11. If you were off next week, where in Romania would you escape?
Right now I’m looking at some pictures taken in Tinutul Padurenilor 5 years ago and I remember how much I liked it there… If it would be possible to go somewhere tomorrow, I’d go there!
Photo credits: ©Vlad Dumitrescu
Interview by Cezarina Pomojnicu