Dragoș-Radu Dumitrescu is a Romanian photographer from Bucharest who graduated from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Biology, and obtained a Master's degree in Genetics, Microbiology, and Biotechnology. In 2011, Dragoș attended the photography course "Francisc Mraz School of Poetic Photography" and exhibited his work at home and abroad. He is a keen observer of human presence, and in his projects, beyond place, time, and color, there is a synthesis of the whole process of being, and people represent the condition of existence.
First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to tell us about you and your work in this interview.
Hello and thank you for the opportunity as well.
To begin, where are you from? Please tell us about yourself and your passions.
I was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1985. I had an inclination towards arts from a very early age. I was 3 or 4 I think. I used to make many drawings, sometimes a few hundred a week and most of them were very abstract, uncanny even. You could say I bloomed very early but I always ended up in a completely opposite environment, school and all. That must have left an unconscious longing for what I had previously interrupted and left incomplete. I think my biggest inherent passion was, ironically, to deny all the knowns around me, everything that we were forced to learn or follow. This detachment gave me some form of independence to find out about things on my own for the world, as it was, had little meaning for me.
What made you leave the field of biology and approach photography? How did this journey start?
My approach to Biology (Biochemistry actually) was a bit childish. The sciences did captivate my attention for a while, however, the information that I was being fed was cold and calculated at times. The pursuit of knowledge and incessantly going deeper into details left me with an obsessive feeling of pursuing something without the simple joy of observing. You see, such a pursuit is outward, external. I feel I needed a different sense of order, an internal one, and not constantly looking to fill up the data on the outside.
I had an old film camera and was occasionally using it in my spare time, mostly for the reason of keeping some memories. And some memories hurt. Perhaps there was more to photography than archiving memory.
All your work is an invitation to see beyond place and people. It's a way to express feelings, a lot of silence.. and respite. Of all the genres, why were you drawn to this type of photography?
If you don’t mind me saying...there is an issue plaguing the photographic world today. There are no types. There is only content. There are no specific rules either. The end result matters the most, regardless of the style you use. Style has unfortunately always been a way of boxing things and people. “He is an expressionist, he is a fauvist, he is a postmodernist.” This may only be of some practical use but is utterly irrelevant in the end.
All great works go beyond identification. And we always like to identify ourselves with something, don’t we? It gives us a sense of security, a sense of self.
You mention silence in my works. I too feel a great deal of silence in the frenzy of Van Gogh’s paintings, be it the exploding colour or the apparent nervousness of his hand drawing. Or in the works of Andre Derain, or Maurice de Vlaminck. Tremendous energy! And if one observes and moves with that energy one finds a feeling of fulfillment of wholeness. There’s a great stillness in that oneness. There’s no more separation or fragmentation in such a state of mind. Therefore no more conflict and energy spent to rearrange and reconcile. That is silence!
Street photography is today pretty much a business for example. It is not about photography, it is about identification with a style mostly ignorant of its content. And people encourage such flimsiness because it easily and superficially captures attention. To sum all this up, I don’t feel I have a type or style at all. Style can be a distraction or even imprisonment.
What did you feel when you took these photos?
If you ask me how I felt while taking them, it felt right. Not because the pictures were interesting or not, but simply due to the fact that I had no intention of taking them.
When I go out for photography I’m actually not going for photography at all. Instead, I feel great joy and freedom to observe everything very attentively and completely being with that attention. Completely! In that attention, the surroundings burst and wither all at once in one instant.
Everything comes toward you, you don’t have to look for it. There’s great beauty in that when I observe, what I want or what I prefer is not there. I am not there.
So there’s freedom from intention and freedom from achievement. In that state, there lies the true sense of beauty. If I manage to instinctively act on that, I take the picture.
You attended the “Scoala de Poetica Fotografica Francisc Mraz.” Please tell us something about this photography school and how it influenced your artistic development.
Francisc Mraz’s school was definitely an eye-opener. I may have had some small measure of grace or elegance in capturing pictures but they were mostly rigid and unyielding in their expression. This is what conceptualism gives you. The understanding, the explaining, rarely any feeling. I was a good conceptualist. Nearly dead in my expressiveness.
I was not a very quiet student, and always had something to argue about but was surprisingly given a lot of patience in spite of my stubbornness. As we were talking about silence before, I gather that I needed to be quiet within myself first.
There’s a lot to tell about this school but that won’t do it any justice. I think experiencing it might be more illuminating. It will for sure give you better clarity to whatever your pursuit might be.
What photographic equipment do you use? Film or digital? Why?
I started off using an entry-level digital camera with an all-around lens. I rarely used any focal length beyond 50mm. Digital allowed me in the beginning to sample all technicalities and so-called styles. There was a lot to experience before realizing what was needed.
The film gave me later on a more disciplined approach to how to manage framing and how to contemplate before the act of shooting.
But I would not try to compare the two. They are ultimately tools. Of course, the film has a more natural presence and appeal and with it, you rarely feel inhibited by the technological advantages that digital tries to impose.
But to each his own. If one can bring oneself to not follow the compulsion of shooting galore at random, then digital is also a great means to convey what is important: the photograph.
What inspires you?
Painting inspires me, and sculpture as well. All arts to be honest. It is no new notion that they are interrelated. Because they are all sensory and sensual experiences after all. And sometimes daily living is the greatest inspiration of all. Within all this photography is just one of many effects, a consequence of order to birth what lies within. That’s all.
What is the definition of photography art in Dragoș-Radu Dumitrescu's conception?
I don’t have a definition or a concept. To put it better, having an opinion, concept or perspective does not correlate with any truth. Having a preference does not validate or invalidate anything. Art is not subjective, despite many considering otherwise. Art is a process of relating to the wholeness of being. For what kind of art leaves you fragmented or unfulfilled?
The relation to that, to that oneness, to that “immeasurable”, has no center for when there is a center, a self, there is measurement and isolation. When the mind is fixed to achieve it is no longer attentive. It has a motive. It is fragmented. To be part of a whole one does not divide it, therefore such a center is absent. When the center is absent you are holding attention to everything.
Such a centerless state cannot be subjective. It merely becomes a fact of observation. To be subjective is to identify yourself with whatever the mind invents.
Many of your photographs were taken within isolated communities in Dobrogea county. Did you choose these communities for your projects because of the artistic spirit or to bring these communities to our attention?
Neither. I might have chosen at first because of the ethnicity... I mostly photographed Turkish communities in Dobrogea. I felt drawn to the feeling of isolation and survival of such communities in isolation, survival of their culture. A culture that is gradually waning as people adapt more and more to the comforts of a shared community where modern technology is taking over tradition. It is at the cusp of events, the moment of passing or changing that holds great importance because the transition is always between being conditioned by one or the other.
My new upcoming photo book, Nastradin, takes up a very different psychological approach to photography while deeply exploring the tremors of such an archaic place as Dobrogea.
Tell us something about the exhibitions you participated in.
The majority of the exhibitions that I participated in were generally group exhibitions held by Francisc Mraz’s School in the country and abroad and there were great opportunities to meet other photographers from other communities. I had some solo exhibitions as well but not all of them were related to photography. I am not very keen on putting up an exhibition. It has such a fleeting coverage. And I noticed many of the people that come to exhibitions are not at all there for observing the works. The space where an exhibition is held is of major concern. The works must truly thrive in occupying such a space. But I feel they thrive more when held in hands in the form of a book or album.
Lately, I have noticed an affinity for color in your works. In a world of color, what can you express through black-and-white photography?
Black and white deals with the movement and progression of form. The form is far more prominent here. Black and white is already a sort of abstraction from how we perceive the world. And in abstraction, we see geometry more clearly, we see the essential structure that keeps the form.
Colour is more difficult because it makes things more plain and common. To render colour in giving a feeling of abstraction may end up becoming artificial. Colour is also immensely descriptive in its appearance and if one stays with simply describing what he sees, one only copies or mimics. There’s little curiosity or exploration in that. The world does little to interpret colour but overuses it abundantly so to some black and white photography might be a well-deserved breath of fresh air.
Your photographic project "Meditation on Colour" opened up a world of colour and silence to me. Please tell us about this project, what it means to you, and what you want to convey to the viewer.
“Meditation on colour” was thought of as an introspection into the world of psychological conditioning and perception. Why colour motivates us, drives us, and how it can have in some instances such a profound resonance with people. Meditation by itself is not a practice or theoretical research. It is simply looking very deeply at the movement and energy of tendency.
The movement of colour is hazardous and chaotic. Its tendency is formless. Wrapped in a form its tendency is to break out of it or to deface its boundaries. When you follow the movement of such a hypnotic impulse, you are quickly sweeping through form and what remains is the impression of moving out of any measurement. But through measuring, we define our existence and the limits of our living. Now try and imagine the absence of such measuring through colour.
For such a thing to happen, colour must never be descriptive in the first place, meaning it must never be dominated in its expression by form or be conveyed as a spectacle. The spectacle is in fact an exaggerated realism, to begin with.
What would be the distinguishing features between being a photographer in India and being a photographer in Europe? What advice would you give to a photographer who wants to do documentary work or street photography in India?
You have a lot of freedom in India. People here are not that concerned with their self-image so they are naturally far more open to the camera than people in the west. There is also far less doubt of whatever your intentions or actions might be.
However, the attitude of the photographer will always come first, regardless of how offering the place is. Remember, the act of taking a photo is still intrusive irrespective of the relationship with your subject so be aware and thankful that you are crossing an open door.
In India, whatever can happen will happen. I haven’t yet seen a more vibrant and constantly changing place. The opportunities are limitless but you have to make some sense out of all that chaos and it is not easy. It can truly be overwhelming.
Have you thought about organizing photography workshops for those who want to explore India?
I have thought about it, yes, and hopefully, this idea will be very soon set in motion, but I won’t want to limit this to India only. I’m having other places in mind as well.
Please share with us your favorite photographers you admire and how did they influence your photographic journey.
I don’t feel I have favorites. I could talk about some of the greats. I was very much absorbed in the works of Harry Gruyaert, a very good colourist. I strongly enjoy Koudelka’s works or Tiago Santana’s, and of course, there are many others worth mentioning. There is a great deal of learning from observing photographers who don’t have much consistency with their work also. And perhaps the best lesson is to realize that you will have to constantly improve on your own. Not through the influence or by comparing yourself with others.
I have love for van Gogh. I relate to him and to his work intensely. The inner movement of his works is revealed to me. It is the inner movement of any artist that has found his or her way. Regardless of the path taken. If one acknowledges such a movement which in fact is the intricacy of aesthetics, one is fully open to finding one’s way.
How do you imagine the evolution of your artistic work? Can you imagine doing anything else?
I cannot say I foresee or imagine how my work will evolve and if that will be its direction. I feel devotion, and deep love for photography and I know I have found my place. Whatever may happen in the future I leave that to the future. There is no point in troubling what has yet to become.