Interview: Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

Statement on the work by the photographers

"Post-industrial Stories" is a long term documentary project done by Romanian photographers Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica. The project explores life in Romania's monoindustrial communities, with a focus on the changes in the lanscape, the relationship between man and his environment, between man and his lifelong job. 

Romania has been heavily industrialized in its over 40 years of communism. Every town had a industrial centre and people from all over the country were moved to urbanize the areas around mines and factories. Huge industrial centers were built in rural areas, changing the landscape completely. The factory workers and the miners were the country's pride, idealized and portrayed as heroes.     

Mono-industrial communities suffer a depression after the loss of the central activity. Everything used to revolve around the industrial center. Everybody worked there, the community's celebrations, sports events and cultural activities were funded and organized by the industrial center. In most mono-industrial towns no new jobs have been created since the industrial center got closed. This is a very common situation in Romania, one that affects a large portion of its population. 

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

fototazo: Tell us a little about your background and how you got into photography. How does your upbringing in Romania as it left Communism affect your photographic vision in terms of personal experience, visual input and life outlook?

Ioana Cîrlig/Marin Raica: We both became interested in photography at an early age. I think our upbringing in post-Communist Romania is key to our work, as we are focused on stories from here and interested in the aesthetics that define our country.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: How did the project “Post-Industrial Stories” begin? Is there a personal aspect? Did you grow up, live or have family in a mono-industrial city?

IC/MR: We were both interested in the subject before we met, we had both travelled extensively to Romania's ex-mono-industrial areas and had observed the same patterns and realized how widespread the situation is. After we met we decided that it was something we'd both wanted to explore long-term and after we could afford to leave Bucharest, where all photography jobs are, we moved to a small mining town in Western Romania.

We grew up in very different contexts. Marin grew up in a small town and Ioana grew up in Bucharest. Her father used to work in a big factory and she loved to go there as a child. She remembers the sense of community that was created among the employees (thousands of them) and all the activities that were organized for them and their families. This is the detail that is most interesting to us: in a small mono-industrial community everything used to revolve around the industrial center – everybody worked there, all the cultural and sports activities, community celebrations and social activities were organized and funded by the mine or factory. We want to explore how the loss of this key element is experienced in the community.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: The photographs look almost as if they could be of a single community. What are your visual strategies - such as light, framing, color - for creating a unity to the work from disparate places?

IC/MR: We try to avoid direct sunlight and we shoot the same film: Kodak Portra. I think a lot of this sense of visual unity is felt because of the similar atmosphere that can be felt in these places.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: We have an image of what looks like a desert, an office interior, a girl in front of a curtain at some sort of event or party...how have you decided what elements of the post-mono-industrial space to portray and what to leave out? Where are the parameters?

IC/MR: We want to show the landscape (the desert-like space is a waste hill left behind by a copper mine), the people, the interior spaces - industrial, schools, social events and the town. The effects on the landscape are especially interesting as most of these mining areas used to be rural, scenic mountain spaces and once the resource potential was discovered the landscape was aggressively urbanized and industrialized. Especially in the 60s and 70s there was an exodus to mining areas because there were always job opportunities here and because the pay was good, much better than in other industries. Now these small towns are slowly being re-ruralized. We wanted to avoid the overemotional poverty scenes that photojournalism often uses to describe the effects of deindustrialization and focus more on a feeling - the feeling of change and loss that these communities experience.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: Tell us about the relationship that you build with your subjects and how you create images with them. Do you spend a lot of time with the people you photograph? Do your subjects collaborate with you on their poses and with the objects with them in the photographs? Are people asked to repeat gestures?

IC/MR: We spend a lot of time with some of the subjects, as much as they allow. Some of the portraits are shot on the street, at work or at an event and some are portraits of people that allowed us to visit and re-visit with them. This is why we wanted to actually live in and not just visit the places we document. For us it's the only way to develop relationships and understand the situation.

We don't usually direct their poses, I think it's more interesting to see how a person reacts in this situation. We just ask: "Can I take your picture?" and the people usually get into a beautiful serious pose once they say yes.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: There are quite a number of photography projects engaged in post-industrial spaces. I feel that your work largely avoids the common images and themes of such projects, including industrial ruins and hardcore social effects, such as drug addiction and prostitution. Many of these exhausted images, however, came to be so because of they indeed portray a striking and prominent part of the post-industrial cityscape. How do you balance avoiding such images with giving a full sense of place?

IC/MR: The plan was to create a visual study of the social phenomenon of community depression and to do our best to stay clear of the cliché shots. Actually living in these small towns helped us overcome the first-impression shots. We took them of course - the industrial ruins, the extreme poverty situations, but we decided to leave them out because we wanted to focus the work on the community, the middle class here, not the extremes. Another thing that helped is that the project is personal and completely independent and we never had the industry in mind while photographing and editing, we are free of those pressures.

Extreme poverty looks the same everywhere but the story here is that of the middle class: the majority lives in poverty, not extreme, but most are struggling on a $160 a month salary or a $100 a month pension. There are hard-working people in Romania who spent the last 25 years earning the minimum wage, which was under $100 in the 90s and it is still really small, about $200.

We probably didn't manage to present a full sense of the place, I think that would take a long, long time, but hopefully we were able to capture that feeling that we think is distinctive here.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: Ultimately how much belief do you have in the power of photography to convey a fair document of a space to an observer not familiar with that space?

IC/MR: No matter how honest you try to be in your documentary work, ultimately you want to show something that is visually powerful and I think this aim makes it hard for the document to be fair, completely realistic and balanced. Hopefully we managed to capture some of the characteristics of these industrial areas and an observer not familiar with the spaces can get an idea of what they look like and how they feel.

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica

f: Talk with us a little about photography in Romania; who are other photographers you'd recommend to readers? What about magazines, sites, galleries and institutions for someone interested in getting a broad stroke look at photography there?

IC/MR: There's not much industry here, no documentary magazines, sites or galleries, but we are lucky to be part of a generation of young, extremely motivated photographers working with documentary, art and photojournalism. Some of our favorites are: Petruț Călinescu, Michele Bressan, Bogdan Gîrbovan and Cosmin Bumbuț.

f: Is there anything else you'd like to add, Marin and Ioana?

IC/MR: No, just thank you!

From the series "Post-Industrial Stories" © Ioana Cîrlig and Marin Raica