DANI GHERCA. 'EXTAZTERESTRU' AND OTHER STORIES
by Polina Shubkina


Could you please tell us about your earliest experiences with photography? What drew you to the medium? What purpose do you think it serves? What do you love about it, and what frustrates you most about it?

Dani Gherca (D.G.): I was 18 years old when I borrowed a Zenith camera from a friend and shot my first two rolls of film. They were some random photographs; I didn’t have any idea about photography, except for finding it a cool domain. After that experience, I didn't photograph for three years, and at the age of 21, I got accepted in the Photography program at the National University of Art in Bucharest. Even though I still didn't know much about photography, it just felt right doing it. Being a little bit of a misanthrope and living a somewhat solitary life, I realized that the camera could offer me an excuse to get in touch with people or experience the situations I normally wouldn't (for example 'ExtazTerestru' project). 

Vernacular photography and family photo albums have always touched me the most with the inherent sadness of the world we don’t have access to anymore; they remind of the irreversibility of time. 


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Traces Of Fantasy', 2017


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Traces Of Fantasy', 2017

What was it like, growing up in Bucharest during the 90's? How, in your opinion, the city changed over the decades (socially, culturally, visually)?

D.G.: I grew up in a working-class neighborhood (Dristor) in a four floors block built by the people who eventually moved in it, my father was one of them. It was a neighborhood populated only by workers, people who migrated from the rural area to Bucharest in the 1970s. Visually, the district consisted of blocks, garages, small shops and stray dogs. There was a sad atmosphere due to the severe economic conditions. Bucharest today has nothing to do with the Bucharest of the 90s: it’s an entirely different city. Romania's accession to EU in 2007 was crucial for the country's capital. At that time, a lot of international corporations opened offices in Bucharest, creating new workplaces, giving the locals an opportunity to adopt international business ethics. Gloomy Bucharest, populated by people with lack of initiative, transformed into a vibrant and dynamic city with proactive citizens.



© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Traces Of Fantasy', 2017


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Traces Of Fantasy', 2017


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Traces Of Fantasy', 2017

What/who were the critical elements of your photographic education? I don’t just mean photographers—I’m thinking of crucial life experiences or music you listened to or a writer who formed your worldview?

D.G.:  Reading 'Camera Lucida' by Roland Barthes made me realize the power of photography to highlight a world, you convinced of knowing, but in fact, you don’t know at all. Another important moment was discovering 'The Unanswered Question' by Charles Ives, around the same time I read 'Bartleby, the Scrivener', the story by Herman Melville. Both authors (Melville and Ives) reinforced my skeptical worldview. As well as the works by Emil Cioran, Lev Shestov, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Could you discuss your relationship with the Danube river? What did it mean to you before you pursued the 'Floating Against the Stream' project, and having completed this body of work, what have you learned about it?

D.G.: I was interested in the role the river played in the cities and villages formation, as well as its impact on the communities, which developed along the watercourse. I wanted to capture the human intervention in the natural landscape, looking for the traces of this dichotomy: natural vs. artificial.


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Floating Against The Stream', 2016


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Floating Against The Stream', 2016


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Floating Against The Stream', 2016


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Floating Against The Stream', 2016


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'Floating Against The Stream', 2016

Please tell us about your 'ExtazTerestru' series. How did you manage to earn the trust of this community? What were their reactions to you? How often were you coming back?

D.G.:  The project is about the man, who calls himself Bruce Lee. He is the leader of the homeless people community, which lives in the sewers around the Central Station in Bucharest. This community consists of approximately one hundred people, aged between seven and forty-five. I knew about him since I was a teenager, Bruce lived in a sewer in my neighborhood for some time. He had a horrible reputation because he used to be violent. In that period I never spoked to him, but when we met, 15 years later, I was already a photographer, he appeared very interesting to me. He was weirdly dressed, and I asked him if I can take his picture. He was open for communication, and we became friends. I found out that he lives on the streets since the age of sixteen. In his "world" he pretends to be an emissary of God, sent on Earth to take care of all homeless people.


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'ExtazTerestru', Bucharest. 2011


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'ExtazTerestru', Bucharest. 2011

Bruce Lee was the leader of the homeless community, and if you were his friend, you could do anything you want in the sewers. It was not hard to gain the trust of his gang. They were friendly people; I can recall only two or three uneasy situations. For example, one night I made an image of a guy who hasn't met me before, without asking permission. He got angry, grabbed my camera took the roll out and broke it.

I spent four years shooting this project, and we spent a lot of time together. There was a period when I used to go daily and stay there for several hours. I came down there for a few hours to celebrate the New Year's night of 2012. From my point of view, most of them are good people, who had terrible luck.


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'ExtazTerestru', Bucharest. 2011


© Dani Gherca, from the series 'ExtazTerestru', Bucharest. 2011

Who are the women from your 'Intime' project, could you please tell us about the series concept?

D.G.: 'Intime' is a project I shot in the “Targsor” prison, the only prison for women in Romania. I was trying to understand, how these women maintain their privacy, given the fact that in detention they are forced to share a small space. Restricting freedom of movement of the person guilty of a crime monopolizes the entire speech on the consequences that must be bared by a person at a time when they violated the law. We never speak about the need for people to be able to decide when they feel the need to be alone. After I talked with several women prisoners, I found that in the evening, when the lights go out in the detention room, is the only time when they can have a moment of privacy. Following this observation, I asked eight of them to write down their thoughts from that intimate moment, when they were alone with their body and mind.


Claudia: « My thoughts. I am thinking every night about my little boy and at my family, to be together with them again, as soon as possible, to be back home. Millions of thoughts and ideas about the things I want to do, appear in my mind, but all are in vain because I am here. I like very much to listen to music and to sit in quiet because I am a calm person. I am looking forward to coming back home.»


Isaura: «My thoughts. At night I am thinking about: my family, the liberation, what job I will find. Night by night I regret the day when I committed this crime, and I am thinking to build my life in a way so that I won’t come back here again. There is nothing more valuable than freedom.»

Plans for the future?

D.G.: This year Romania celebrates its centenary, perfect time for me to finish working on the 'New Romania' project, which focuses on the beliefs, stereotypes, and myths surrounding the idea of the country's national identity; and raises such questions as "What does it mean to be Romanian? What are the borders of the country? Who is eligible for the citizenship? What is the relation between ethnicity, race, and nation in the formation of national narrative?".

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LINKS:
Urbanautica Romania

Dani Gherca