Homage to my Grandmother – The Photographer

Everything I write here is because of my grandmother – the Photographer. I have inherited the passion for photography from her, as she was the one in my family who had the strongest attraction towards visual arts and I am simply her follower, walking on a different road, but having the same name: Photography. How much different? Well, the obvious is in the gear and the techniques: I use digital cameras (sometimes I use film cameras and more than that, I still use old, legacy manual focus lenses, on both film cameras and the digital ones), while she was using studio, large format cameras; as for the technique, I develop my RAW files in a software and print the finalized JPEG files in a print shop, on photo paper, while she was developing the negatives in the studio.

For the road she was walking, nothing was easy. My grandmother used to retouch the developed negatives in the studio (but sometimes, at home, too). She worked on a light table, where the large negative was fixed and well-lit from underneath. There was also some powerful magnifying glasses she could position above the areas where more attention to details was necessary. The retouching process was something that took time, patience, a steady hand and a lot of talent. The pencils were the grandfathers of the airbrush, clone tool and healing tool from Photoshop and other softwares we use today. They needed to be extremely sharp, in order to work on the finest details on the negative. Just remember, the black on the negative is in fact white on the positive – this was the tool for retouching all the black areas that needed to be masked, lightening the applied areas. To darken some other areas, I think some sort of fine razors were needed.

It was hard work – no shortcuts, no predefined actions, patterns, filters, YouTube tutorials, or batch processing. Every negative was unique and required the hand of a painter – a true artist to correct the negative and deliver a beautiful, clean image, without altering the facial traits of the subject, (that were so easy to mess up) in the portrait photography.

As much as she loved this job, it seemed that she loved me, more than anything. During those hard times, she often went to work at the studio, together with me, while I was in the stroller. The work was really demanding; as the attention a small child requires was constantly overlapping with the hard work, the need to make a hard choice finally arrived: raising her grandchild (because she was never an adept of leaving the kids in the kindergartens, as the conditions were poor and many children were terribly sick), or continuing the work, in those very difficult conditions. Being tired and standing by her principles and the love for her grandchild, she just quit the job, never to return to work in the studio. This is how I had one of the most beautiful childhood besides my grandparents and that was the price my grandmother had to pay. She stopped being a professional studio photographer, many, many years before the retirement age. This was a familial financial challenge, where my grandfather needed to compensate. Their contribution to my happiness as a child, during those very difficult communism times cannot be fully described, nor ever repaid.

It was the Golden Age of photography – an era that will never come back again. Ever. And it’s strange that I’m saying this now, when photography is all around us; more popular and more accessible than ever. But we should all know the differences between snapshots and photographs, between an individual with a digital device that captures images and a photographer. We really need to find and cultivate the artists and the art of photography in this modern equation, filled with cameras, smartphones and lots of “users” who just record billions and trillions of images every year. This is why it is important to define photography as an art. Of course, everything seems much easier now, with the technological progress. Even a true, amazing photographer can start from zero and reach very high tops. Back in the age of studio photography, this wasn’t “a job” for everyone, not like today, when photography can be for almost everyone (well, not for everyone, but accessible for a huge number of people, by comparison). Genuine artists worked inside a studio photography, where almost every technical process (from the moment you arrange your subjects and compose the shot, until the printed photograph was delivered), was a constant challenge and a real skilled fight with the technological limitations.

Mind blowing fast autofocus, hundreds of focus points, intelligent algorithms and powerful processors (plus Photoshop, VSCO, Lightroom, Instagram filters and so on) and we still deliver mediocre results? Well, yes, because today it is so easy and we lose our mind thinking about more powerful gear, as we deal with a constant feeling of disappointment towards the gear we possess. We always need something better, faster, with more megapixels, hoping we will reach public success if we would have the best of the best in photographic gear.

I wonder what did photographers, back then, while having a conversation with each other in the studio, dream about better photographic gear… What were their wishes? A faster new Zeiss portrait less for their Large Format studio camera? A better material for the negatives? Pencils that sharpen themselves, automatically? More powerful flashes? Or maybe ISO3200 films? Perhaps more portable cameras, like the 35mm film format (that dream actually became true, while the photography studios were still alive). I wish I had the chance to ask my grandmother about all those things. And I wish I had my beginnings in photography during those times.

She was born in 1928, October 10 in a village called Rosetti, Buzau County (Romania). Her work as an apprentice in photography, started in Buzau, at the “Foto Silvia” studio, learning from Silvia and other photographers. She consolidated her skills, beside Silvia and worked in Buzau for some time. When she moved to Onesti (my hometown, the city of Nadia Comaneci) she was the photographer in the only studio in our city, right until she had to quit, to raise me, during those difficult communism times. After she left, the studio was on its path to depreciation, because there was no one, good enough to be found, to replace her and eventually the studio closed its doors, on the background of modern photography techniques rising and making the “old studio tradition” obsolete. Such a shame!

This website, this passion, this story, myself – would not be here without her. Everything I do and cherish about visual arts is because of her. The path I chose to walk on – Photography – as a mean to discover and reinvent myself, to express the way I see the world around me and share all this with others who have the same passion and interest in discovering this endless world, it is because of her. I am eternally grateful for what I am, feel and became, as a result of this wonderful inheritance, education and love. I miss my grandmother – as a grandmother and a life saviour, but interestingly as a professional photographer – artist, as well. I cannot say how sorry I am she left this world to early, long before I started my first committed and serious steps into photography. Of course, I have experimented with my dad’s film camera when I was very young, but I wasn’t into photography – my real beginning was not more than 10 years ago. I wish I could show her about my passion, my stories of travel photography, the errors I make and the achievements I have, about my exhibitions and my future plans, my role at the Viewfinders – The Photography Club of Brussels, my published articles and interviews and my vision in photography. I wish I could actively learn from her, consult her, make her my mentor. And continuously give her my gratitude.

Those words are not enough and they couldn’t show the whole biography, but I am grateful for the help of my family (Silvia, Narcisa, Luminita, Horatiu) for making this small story, published.

Thank you, aunt Silvia for your essential part in this chapter of life; thank you for your kindness, talent and warm touch in the life of my family! Thank you, dear grandma, for e v e r y t h i n g ! Right now, it’s been 15 years since I saw you for the last time. I really need to meet you (sometimes – somewhere – out there) and discuss, among other things, about photography!

Her name is Ana.

Text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / www.sebastianboatca.com

Photos used with kind permission – © Silvia Vranceanu; Horatiu Anghelache 2018 / www.facebook.com/HasPhoto/ and “hasphotography89” on Instagram.

(We are the grandchildren of the golden photographers!)

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  1. Nice, in fact, great story.
    I used to photograph in black and white, on 135 film and process my own photos – and I am going to start doing that again for my undergrad students, to show them ”how it was”.

    (Two things confuse me, the birth date of your grandmother – one on the licence and one in your text and the name Ana. plus, the word nephew – which is the siblings’s son, not the grandparents’ grandson)

    1. Thank you, Eva! I’ve just corrected the “nephew” issue and there could be some inconsistencies within the papers. The papers are about aunt Silvia and not my grandmother, Ana. I hope this still isn’t so confusing, after all.

  2. This is a nice tribute to your Grandmother, to Ana.

    Ana, was quite the modern woman, and stylish too, for any time and place but especially for her time and place in post-WWII, Communist, Romania. With talent and skill it looks that some, like Ana, were still able to fulfil their artistic and creative ambitions under a less than accommodating totalitarian system – there must have been many lines that nobody dared cross.

    I especially like the image of Ana sitting at a table in the studio with men to both sides of her and the photograph of her walking down the street dressed so stylishly with the horse drawn carriage behind her.

    God only know when today’s system of Photography will be as antiquated as the system Ana used. People in the future will look back to today and think how primitive we were. But I wonder if Photography, itself, will ever improve as in the final product – the photograph itself. I’d say that 99.99% of the photos taken today, with the use and ease of all our modern equipment, aren’t any better than the best photographs of the Golden Age of Photography that your grandmother was a part of.

    In the end photography, great photography, is much more about the idea in your brain and the eyes in your head than it is about the camera in your hand.

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