Interview with the Photographer Lucian Muntean, by Fabianni Belemuski & Eva Defeses

Tell me 3 characteristics that belong only to photography.

The spontaneity of photography – the possibility to obtain a complete work of art in a split second. It is due to this fact that photography has gained its place among the new artistic trends. Photography clearly has a documentary value which is far more superior to painting. Photography can render an image from reality and this can turn into evidence in a trial for instance, whereas the realism in painting cannot render it with such precision. Photography has become extremely accessible and easily obtained because of the development of the digital technology, but this also makes it more commonplace.

Lucian Muntean

Lucian Muntean

Black and white or colour?

I started with black and white but I have also worked in almost all my themes and projects in black and white and in colour (even if I didn’t exhibit the black and white ones so often because of technical reasons; lately, all agencies, newspapers and magazines publish their photographies almost exclusively in colour).

I always take with me a digital camera and also a film, black and white one. I decide which to use depending on the circumstances, some things I observe can be shown better in black and white or have a special graphical aspect, better for the monochromatic approach. Also, the atmosphere of a certain place can sometimes be rendered better in black an white. I “see” some shots directly in black and white, I know for certain that it is the best choice. One can draw the attention on the subject or on some symbolic elements by eliminating a messy chromatic aspect in favour of valuable grayish shades.

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

However, other times you may come across a rich chromatic atmosphere, brought out by a very good light, which almost “forces” you to use colour. This may also save you when you don’t have an obvious subject. One can appreciate a photography on a chromatic-base only.

You worked on numerous photo-reportages and projects, some of them about real circumstances (traditions such as the pig, the lamb, palinca, etc) cities, but others propose a distance from the real world (the dream, winter, window). Which is harder to render?

I have been working as a photo-reporter since 1997, so I have specialized in documentary photography and I have done many photo-reportages. I have learned that everyone has a story to tell. The challenge is to discover it, to know how to listen and how to render it. I initially  do some documentation work on the theme in question and I try to make some contacts. When I get on the field, the first and most important thing is to mingle with the people there. The secret I guess is to behave naturally. It is of utmost importance to win the trust of the one you have to work with.  It depends only on you whether the man will invite you inside his home or turn his back on you.

When it comes to personal projects I organize myself in such a way so that I have enough time. It is important not to hurry.  As soon as the interlocutor has accepted you , you can work freely and the “subject” can go on with his activity naturally.

I prefer to remain as discreet as possible and I also include in this the cameras I use. It is more comfortable for me to use a small camera that doesn’t arise curiosity.  You shouldn’t get in situations where the photographer is in the centre of the attention.

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

Fotografie de Lucian Muntean

To digitally manipulate, retouch or not?

As I said, the photo reportage has a documentary characteristic, its job is to tell about what happened in that place. You shouldn’t intervene and manipulate things. Anyway, in a subjective way your own perception also gets transmitted. This is a basic principle for me. This is why I don’t retouch my photographies, I don’t crop them, replace them, I don’t change the light or the colours so that they should render as good as possible the atmosphere of the event.

When I work, I pay attention to the details, the composition, the chromatic aspect, the gestures of the characters. One is forced to pay attention to all these in a very short period of time, then you click, and that is it, anything else is painting. Of course, I also assume the inevitable mistakes.

You work covers many elements in the life of the village. What is it about these photo reportages that you find so appealing?

I prefer the social photo reportage, it is the one I feel most comfortable with. I have been working one  project called “Traditions during Transition” since 2000. Practically, I took the task of documenting the everyday life in a secluded mountain village in Apuseni, on the verge of the Romanian integration in the UE. I made frequent trips to Rogojel , where I made several series of photo reportages about the work in the fields, the distillation of the palinca,  the sacrifice of the Easter lamb or the Christmas pig.

I was interesting to see that in that village, that hadn’t experienced collectivization, they managed to keep unaltered the rhythm of life. But what couldn’t be changed by the war or by the communism is changing due to nowadays globalization. Since  2003 I have worked in team with 2 Frenchmen. Then, in 2007 we  presented the exhibition “Le Mond selon Rogojel” at the Multimedia Festival of Est-Ouest, France. In March 2008 – the exhibition “Traditions during transition at Rogojel” at the Matei Corvin House, Cluj, and  in may –  November 2008 at the Museum of Compared Art of Sangeorz Bai, Bistrita Nasaud.

The theme about the Christmas pig later evolved in a new project, “Long Live the Pig”, on which I worked together with the artists Maxim Dumitras and Cosmin Nasui. This project was exhibited in december 2008 at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, and we were invited by  ICR Venice to exhibit it during the Vencie Bienale, in nov. 2009.

After the first month of your project “12 o’clock”, what did you feel when you saw all the photographies together, a small calendar of your own life?

I realized it was only the beginning… since I’ve decided to shoot one photo at the same time, daily, during a year. I think it is also an exercise of perseverance. It is right, I did have the real feeling of a personal calendar. I remembered many details, apart from that specific image of the day. It is interesting that I could be always in a different place, meeting different people.

Do you like other art forms besides photography? Digital art?

I am a conservative fellow. During 1994-1995 I worked as a ceramist painter at the Porcelain fabric of Sighisoara. During that time I also had a painting studio and I have always been attracted by drawing and painting. But once I started my studies at the University of Cluj-.Napoca, I started with photography. After more than 10 years I began to paint again. I find inspiration in Chinese Calligraphy and in Japanese painting. The simplicity and spontaneity of these techniques resemble photography and somehow, the circle is closed.

You haven’t approach eroticism in your work. Do you think it is all said about it in photography?

Yes, you are right, I haven´t touched this theme. We all know eroticism catches the eye, draws attention, but there is also the risk that the viewer may admire exclusively the subject and completely  forget about the photography and the photographer. I guess I am selfish about this, but that’s what I think.

Lucian Muntean Website:

Born on 1974, in Sighisoara, Romania, Lucian Muntean graduated the Faculty of Geology in 2001. Starting with 1997, he worked for local and national newspapers like Ziua, Ziarul de Cluj, Dilema Veche, Pro Sport, Gazeta Sporturilor and with press agencies Rompres, Mediafax, Hepta from Bucharest.

Since 2006, he has been working for ADEVARUL national newspaper from Bucharest.

His passion for photography expressed itself in many personal exhibitions, showing images from Romania and countries such as France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Holland, Austria, Czech Republic, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Zambia.