Photography as social speaker in Romania
Mugur Varzariu, Romanian 44, was not able to handle a camera until four years ago. Before that he was a marketing strategist in large companies and the truth is he doesn’t lose the opportunity to ‘sell’ his work. Images are for him a way to denounce the social problems. And he does not rule out using other, like politics. In his early works he traveled the world in search of conflicts such as Syria, but soon he realised he didn’t need to leave the borders of his country to find injustice. The measures that the French President at that time, Nicolas Sarkozy, took to deport Romanian Gypsies, made him see a conflict that, according to him, nobody was caring about. Now he devotes most of his time to them, to report the abuses they suffer and to do to activism to avoid them. Varzariu reviews here some of the most significant snapshots of his still short career as a reporter.
This picture, taken in March 2010, shows several Romanian Gypsies visiting a cemetery in Herasti, in the south of the country, during a Palm Sunday. Orthodox Christians go there at midnight to light candles around the graves and to share food to remember their deceased relatives. The darkness hardly allowed me to focus. I took the picture a few months after I started my job as a social reporter, so I was still learning to use the camera in different situations.
This photograph was selected by Canon as one of the top three in the NPC competition. It portrays some Eritrean refugees arriving from Libya to the center of UNHCR in Timisoara (Romania). I did not win the first prize, which went to a photo of tear gases falling from the sky on Palestinian protesters in Israel -who can compete with that?- but I was not disappointed. Across the contests in which I have participated in I’ve always been among the top five. For me it is more important to be constant than to be lucky.
I took this picture from a police helicopter in which a group of journalists travelled to attend the delivery of humanitarian aid in a snowy region near Bucharest.
Here is an image I had no intention of capturing. The boy was working when I went there and he asked me to take a picture. I said yes and immediately he jumped on the horse. He controlled in a few seconds the animal and, when stopped, I pressed the button. It’s a snapshot in which I see the hope of change for Roma people in Romania.
On 12 12 2012 I took a walk through the largest park in Bucharest and I found these fishermen, who were collecting their catch. It was very cold and I struggled to go out of bed, but the reward were images that you only expect in the middle of wild and unsuspected places, not in the center of a large capital.
For me this is a reminder of what is dignity in poverty. I was working on a story about access to health of the Roma community when I found this suburb. The photograph is the first family that I visited . I spent the first 15 minutes in the street, but when I walked into this small but colourful room and met this old lady, I soon realised that it was a special moment.
My history with Mihai, in the image, started with the wrong foot. It almost came to blows. He used to ask for money from passersby with cameras there and so did to me. I answered so abruptly that people around warned me I could get in trouble. Some people had to intervene to prevent a fight. We are now very good friends. I’ve struggled to prevent the demolition of their home and many others in Craica.
The teenager of the image always worked night shifts, so each time I was coming to the village where he lived, in the early morning, he was sleeping. He trained his cock to follow him everywhere, it was like a dog. It was going after him every day until the end of the year, when the neighbours killed it.
My first jobs were in Syria, where this photograph is taken. I tried to sell it to the AP, but they could not care less. Two years later it became the image of the front page of Vice International (the November issue on Syria ) and it was used for an advertising campaign, which gave me some money.
I was at home the morning I decided to go to Parliament and see if I could sneak in to take some photos of the Romanian President. I had no accreditation, but I managed to access. Though I could not capture many images of the Prime Minister, I was the only that captured the moment when a man hold a chair over the head of the mayor’s daughter.
I believe in karma and this is about it. I had to see a lawyer downtown to sign some papers. I grabbed my camera in case I had time to work during the day. I stopped with the car in front of the Royal Palace, where there was a demonstration. In the middle of this chaos, I was less than 10 minutes on stage taking pictures. Here comes the magic part: I came home to edit the material and realised that among the crowd my mother was protesting. I was aware that I inherited my parents’ ideals and activism.
An extremely dirty rain fell down the stairs of the building of social housing. Baia Mare neighbors who lived there were in danger of eviction. The day I caught the image, the mayor had asked them to clean the room for a press visit. They had to evacuate hundreds of buckets of water. Two years later I discovered that two girls fell from the balcony of that building because there were no handrails on stairs and railings.
Original article in Spanish here.