Eastern Europe has received a lot of attention recently, both from mainstream and smaller media outlets. As a result, without having to resort to niche media, we can read all about where to eat in Georgia, where to party in Poland, where to relax in Bosnia, and which Russian underground musicians to check out. But rarely anyone writes about Moldova.
Maybe because it is a challenge to introduce the country without falling back on sad clichés. The country in whose endless underground wine cellars (>200km) Vladimir Putin celebrated his 50th birthday? The poorest state in Europe, which receives over a third of its GDP from remittances sent by Moldovans working abroad? The former Soviet republic struggling with the breakaway territory of Transnistria? One of Europe’s major source countries for human trafficking?
Beyond the negative and demeaning figures and news about this place that actually make it to the rest of Europe, or further, let’s not forget that Moldova, like any other place, is home to creative masterminds, young people looking to advocate change, and artists wanting to show their country to the rest of the world.
Some of the work by our favourite Moldovan photographers probably still portrays the country in the way you would expect it to look like: a babushka with a floral headscarf, a Lada making its way through rolling green hills, and street parades in Sovietesque fashion. However, these promising artists go above and beyond the stereotypes and present to you some different faces of Moldova you may not have known existed.
A Chisinau local, Sandu (feature photo) started his career in television. After years of working for Moldovan and Russian news stations, he decided to focus on photojournalism instead. What is remarkable about his shots is that they are often lit by natural light, with Sandu having mastered the use of different stages and facets of daylight to his advantage. He covers a broad range of issues, from intimate portraits and underground clubs in Moldova to everyday images from the devastated Donbass region. Especially captivating is his series The Loneliness from the Fifth Floor, where Sandu documents his grandfather’s struggle to cope with loneliness in his Chisinau apartment after his wife passed away. These photos are so intimate, raw, and real, that you almost feel incredibly rude for invading his grandfather’s privacy. His work is personal yet sometimes distant, crushing but sometimes funny, and chilling and heart-warming at the same time.
John caught our eye with his beautiful, fragile, vulnerable series Fine Art Nude, in which he strikingly knows how to create the perfect composition using the right lighting, placement, and angle. His documentary work, which is mostly black and white, gives us an insight into what life in Moldova is like. The lines on people’s faces, the foggy Moldovan countryside mornings, the mesmerizing game of shade and light: this photographer and cinematographer is a master in capturing the fragility of everyday beauty and reality in his native country. With his newer work focusing on Japan and his involvement with a Norwegian film company, we foresee a bright international career for this promising artist.
Anton was born and raised in Tiraspol, Transnistria, where he continues to live today. Although educated as a geographer, Anton has been a very successful photographer the last couple of years and has seen his work featured in media outlets such as Novaya Gazeta, Bird in Flight, The Guardian, and Business Insider. As he puts it himself, his current focus is on capturing the “historical and cultural memory” of Transnistria, and the questions, identity issues, and doubts with which the generation growing up in an unrecognized country after the collapse of the Soviet Union is faced. His photos ooze honesty and sincerity, as well as showing elements of both reality and surrealism. Urban photography, rural areas, people’s homes, intimate portraits: Anton knows exactly what he is doing, regardless of the genre, and delivers solid, touching pictures in each of his reportages. Recently, he was awarded the Bob Books Photobook Award for his work.
Perhaps you are already familiar with Mihail after the Chisinau photo essay we did with him last year. He referred to Moldova’s capital as a “ghost”, “the city of my modest dreams”, and a place just like any other European city, but with a more condensed sadness. This is surely reflected in his photos. Not all of his work is about melancholy, though, as his portfolio shows. Playing with light and with a keen eye for the right balance of colour, Mihail tells visual stories through his shots, and shows an unexpected and diverse side of Moldova. Some photos almost represent the country as a fairytale where, pardon the cliché, time appeared to have stood still, whereas others depict the grittier side of the landlocked state. Mihail, like Anton, John, and Sandu, represents a creative generation and a new artistic wave hailing from what probably is Europe’s least-known and most disregarded country.