This week, PhotoTime is beginning a new series of articles, where we take a look at talented photographers from all across the globe, and speak with them to better understand what inspires them and fuels their art. This week we’re showcasing Serban Mestecaneanu, a talented Romanian photographer with an eye for the passion of daily life and the craftsmanship of fellow artists. Serban’s work can be found on his website, alongside selected prints for sale.
PhotoTime: How did your artistic career begin? Is it something you’ve always seen yourself doing?
Serban Mestecaneanu: I could say that my first attempts towards an artistic career started in high school, fooling around, skipping class with four of my friends and school mates- I was capturing those moments. It was then, with a Russian camera, that I started to investigate composition and other basic rules in photography. I still have some of the film rolls from those days.
PT: Much of your work is in very stark black and white. How does freedom from hue shape your photography, and why do you prefer it?
SM: I stayed true to my early days of analogue photography, so even if today I mostly use digital cameras, for my personal projects I sometimes shoot with a rangefinder camera or a 6×6 one. I find that B&W manages to send a stronger and better message, one which I find to be more beautiful than those in colour. Colour is wonderful, but as we do not have the luxury of the painters, who can decide which color works best, like the extraordinary arrangements of Kandinsky. Sometimes, in photography, a good composition can be destroyed by a distracting colour.
PT: Most of our readers are likely unfamiliar with the Romanian art scene. Could you share with us some of your contemporaries and influences, both there and abroad? How much does Romanian history and culture in particular inform your artistry?
SM: In terms of photography, Romania has very little history unfortunately. Unlike in Poland, Romania was muted during communism time in terms of photography, of course with very few exceptions. Andrei Pandele is one of the few people that managed to capture the times before the Revolution and is one of my influencers. I do not know whom to blame for what has happened, probably the regime which was afraid of photographers, and wanted to control them, but after 50 years under the reds we had few names in photography. As I said, my first attempts in photography started under this regime, however I would not say that I was in any way influenced by it, I was too young to be bothered with the political situation, so I consider myself not to be paying any tribute whatsoever to those days.
But I find myself drawn to the results of this half of the century which are still visible in Romania. To give you an example, while writing this I am in Germany for a project. Every time I visit this country I feel no attraction to photograph anything (besides the reason I am here for), street photography is so clean and sterile to me, compared to what happens in my country at least. In Germany I find myself attracted to the architecture of this country than the street or the people. In Romania on the other hand, with all the changes happening constantly, street photography, especially in the countryside is a paradise for any photographer.
PT: You’ve taken many compelling shots of musicians and performers. What about these scenes and images is so appealing to you?
SM: I see this kind of work as like going to hunting, you wait and you wait, and then you wait some more for something to happen and when it does, you just have to be ready to get the best angle. It is like a documentary: you pretty much know what your subject is but never know how good your photos will end up. Patience is something you have to have plenty of and you will be rewarded with some decent photos. There are of course the shots which are staged but these are like any photoshoots I would say.
What I like most is this kind of documenting something which is in constant change. All these artists pay no attention to me after a while; they have to focus completely on their rehearsals or concerts, so I can just hover around them, trying my best not to disturb anyone. And something else, I feel a great joy when I see their reaction when looking at the photos, they are so focused that most of the time are unaware of how it looks from outside.
PT: The integration of technology into our daily lives has consistently made the experience of taking photographs easier and easier. Do you see this as purely good, or are there pitfalls to be aware of?
SM: 50 or 100 years ago there were only a handful of photographers in any major town. All of their work, if you can find it today, would be considered a masterpiece. But I believe that only a few of these handfuls were actually very good, the others simply had access to the technology of the times and were offering a service and nothing more. These days, with such easy access to technology and mobile phones, everybody is a photographer, and just as before, only a few are actually good. What exactly this means to us and to our society? It means that creativity, or access to the arts (if you consider photography as part of it) is available to the masses and this is surely a good thing for the human being who strives for expressing herself artistically. On the other hand, in my opinion, such a broad penetration of wanna-be photographers has diluted the impact that photography once had over its viewers. But the benefit of technology is more important than its pitfalls, without it, thousands of people who emerge every year as important photographers worldwide, would simply not have had a chance to exist.
PT: What artistic endeavors do you dream of having the opportunity to pursue in your future?
SM: I dream of finding a patron who would support me in accessing some of the far away corners of our world, were I could document people’s lives and habitats and bring these stories back to my part of the world.
PT: What advice do you have for young photographers?
SM: Here are some of the words of advice I would say to a starting photographer: look into the past and study the work of the photographers and do it with an open mind of a 3 year-old; when you show your work to anyone, make sure you are showing only your best selection – fewer is better – I always considered this as a must; ask a friend you trust to revisit your selection and accept her view, even if at the moment you might feel hurt, let it hover in the back of your mind for a couple of days until you take the final decision; print only on good quality paper and always frame your works, give your photos a good start in life, your audience will spend more time in front of your images if they see you took time in preparing them.
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