by Paula Erizanu
The technological democratization of photography has led to a worldwide explosion of photographers. In the Republic of Moldova this has been no different. So, an exhaustive list of all those who have turned photography into a passion or a source of income would be impossible. I will however outline some of the main directions that Moldovan photography has taken in recent years: documentary and even archival photography, on the one hand, and detail, travel and fashion photography, on the other.
Considering the formative influence they exerted, two photographers can be seen as the main poles of the two directions. One pioneer of documentary and archival photography is Nicolae Pojoga, who captured images of the Romanian Revolution in 1989, as well as the wars in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria in the early 90s. In terms of fashion and travel photography, Roman Rybaleov is especially well known for his surreal pictorials made in collaboration with local glossy magazines.
While Pojoga, a professor at the Academy of Music, Theatre and Fine Arts guided entire generations of directors and photographers, Rybaleov has passed on his trade mark via his private photography school. Through direct influences or simple affinities, the two artists have influenced contemporary Moldovan photography, although, naturally, not all young photographers were formed by them.
Other masters of Moldovan photography are Anatolie Poiată, an afficionado of daily life photography, in the style of Cartier-Bresson, Mihai Potârniche, a stylist of the Moldovan village, Nicolae Răileanu, portraitist of Moldovan writers and artists.
Having both started as photojournalists for local publications, Ramin Mazur and Mikhail Kalarashan are the forerunners of a generation of documentary photographers. Born and raised on the left bank of the Nistru river, in Transnistria, both photographers are highly interested in capturing images of daily life across all of the Republic of Moldova, and beyond. One of Mazur’s most interesting projects is the ongoing Rural Carnival, a series of photographs documenting — without romanticising — the way in which the Malanka tradition is preserved and changed in villages in Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.
Among Kalarashan’s works, one of the most important, Rada, reveals, in warm colors and with unexpected optimism, the life of a refugee and single mother from Donbas who found shelter in a mountain village in west Ukraine.
Besides Mazur and Kalarashan, Anton Polyakov mainly x-rays the life and ‘visual anthropology’ of Transnistria. In addition to documentary photography, Mazur and Polyakov also experiment in the area of conceptual art and photography.
The discovery, in 2016, of the archives of Zaharia Cușnir, an amateur photographer who portrayed, with extraordinary spontaneity, people from Moldovan villages between 1950s-70s, was a turning point in the history of Moldovan photography. Victor Galușca and his professor, Nicolae Pojoga, found, cleaned and digitalised the collection that was later published as a photography album titled „Lumea lui Zaharia” (The World of Zaharia), and presented in exhibitions in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. A series of articles in the local and international press created and nurtured public attention towards archival photography. Inspired by Cușnir’s photographs, Victor Organ, also a graduate of Moldova’s Academy of Arts, curated photographs at the National Agency of Archives, promoting them in the press, and then launching the private initiative Rama albastră (The Blue Frame), dedicated to historical family photographs. In addition to his archival work, Organ made a series of black and white portraits of young people in the style of 50s photography, on the streets of Chișinău.
A celebration of the village world can be seen in the photos of Natalia Gârbu, Lucia Lupu and Ștefan Susai, a photographer from Romania who dedicated recent years to the radiography of the Moldovan village. If Lupu focuses on the romantic part of the village as a space closer to nature, Gârbu and Susai often rely on humour. Gârbu also employs collage techniques to generate surreal works with mystical elements, sometimes rooted in archival Soviet images — an area that is explored by another young photographer, Maria Guțu.
Maria Guțu boasts an array of black and white portraits of children, the elderly, including fairies with long white hair, or youngsters who stayed in Moldova despite the mass emigration of their peers. Like Guțu, with her series of young couples and Amazonian girls, Elena Sirețanu also brings a whiff of punk in Moldovan village photography.
One of Aurel Cepoi‘s projects, meanwhile, captures objects abandoned in peasant homes by the Moldovans who went to work abroad. Cepoi’s other work consists of travel photos from Kyrgyzstan and Iraq. His stylized aesthetic is close to that of Roman Rybaleov.
The artist Victoria Viprada finds herself in the same stylised area, but her work often focuses either on detail, or on dark, even surreal portraits. In 2022, Viprada also co-authored a sucessful multimedia exhibition centred on the idea of touch at the National Museum of Arts, and in 2021, she launched a concept book dedicated to historical parts of Chișinău. Photographer and painter Irina Lesik and photographer Andrei Șușvaliuk also bear a strong surreal postmodern mark.
In recent years, portrait and event photography has especially flourished in Chișinău, constituting a source of income for many photographers. Some of the country’s most interesting young portraitists include Nata Moraru (now living in the UK), Igor Schimbator, Sergiu Odainic, Alex Vdovichenko, and Alex Iordache, who shot a series of photos of medical workers during the COVID pandemic, a project he showcased in front of Chișinău’s Arch of Triumph.
And the list can go on. We do not lack talent.