During the winter holidays I have finally met a fellow photographer from my hometown, Onesti, Romania, who uses Fujifilm cameras for his work and passion. Onesti is a small town, but one of the most important references to this city is that here, Nadia Comaneci attended the high-school and had its gymnastics trainings, that ultimately led her to being the greatest gymnast of all times.
Now back to our subject and my meeting with Stefan Neagu – I knew him for a while, from the online environment, but I knew it was about time to actually meet him in person.
His work, that he posts on the usual online platforms is really great and inspired, but his presence in a face to face dialogue is a pleasure. You all know that type of feeling when you could say “it seems like I’ve known you for ages”, when you keep discussing different subjects, one after another and you lose track of time and start being late for other appointments? That’s Stefan Neagu and you can find out more about him and his passion for photography, here on his website.
But before starting the interview, I should mention that among other cameras (digital and analog), his strongest preference is for Fujifilm cameras. Combined with his talent and passion in photography, this drove to his international recognition, exhibiting one photography at the prestigious “Fujifilm X World Photo Gallery” in Fujifilm Square – Tokyo, in January-February 2016. And now, it’s time to meet him and hear his words.
Sebi: How old is this passion for photography?
Stefan: I enjoyed this form of expression since when I was a little boy and my father was passionate about photography, I think. I remember spending time with my father in the improvised darkroom and being amazed by the way the photographs became visible; quite an impressive show! Later, he gave me an old Smena, the Lomo version. It was quite a nice camera, I still have it. I guess this “photography flow” was present in my life, in one form or another. Back in the ’90s I had for several years a subscription to PHOTO France Magazine, and I guess that’s where most of my “way of seeing” in photography has its roots. The more serious approach in photography just happened in 2010 when an editor of a photography magazine published one of my images and I said to myself “OK, it seems I might have a little talent on this!”. I studied N.Y.I.P. Photography Courses, layering structured information in my mind, but anyway I don’t think this study will ever end…
Sebi: Digital vs. Analog. Do you still use film cameras? Why? Would you recommend a film camera to a beginner in photography?
Stefan: A question that has aroused discussions on both sides of “the front”, to which I will respond in the most purely pragmatic spirit: digital, because of “ergonomics”. It’s faster, the result is immediate, so it’s easier to control the process. The technological evolution lately compensated for many of the limitations in digital sensors, moreover, there are filters that reproduce in detail the characteristics of classic celluloid films. Yet yes, I still use film cameras for the discipline that they require and for “that emotion” related to the fact that you can’t see what you’ve done, but only after you’ve developed the film and look at the negatives…
There are some cameras that I cherish. I have my grandfather’s Zorki S from 1957, my father’s Zenith from the ’80 and something special, a 1960 Rolleiflex T. A good friend gave me a 1938 Exakta wich requires some C.L.A., but otherwise is in “good shape”. These are my dearest film cameras. I know it’s strange to get emotionally attached to things, but I can’t help it. What I’ve “borrowed” from shooting film is the past time between taking pictures and developing the film. That’s what I call “psychological-digital developing”; after a shooting session, I transfer the pictures into my computer and let them “rest” there, for a while. After several days I look at them and with the faded away emotional factor from the shooting, I notice I can “kill my babies” much easier and I become more objective with the selection process. That’s a trick I teach at my photography course to my students. To a beginner I would recommend to use digital, as the results are immediate and the learning process is more fluid. And I believe that sooner or later, the “film spell” will hit many of them, without notice anyway…
Sebi: Landscape, Street, Portrait, Travel photography – in what order?
Stefan: I would say “Moment Photography”. Because it’s hard for me to say “I will only do this kind of photography from now on”. It doesn’t matter to me, let it be portrait, or landscape, but it has to have “that moment” that makes me pick up the camera and want to take a photo. I mostly enjoy working with people, it’s that intimate moment between the photographer and the subject in portrait photography. You, as a photographer have “all the power”, you lead the viewers into reading the photograph, you choose what to show and what not to show. As I like to say, the photographer “borrows” the soul of the person he photographs and he has to handle it with great care. A portrait is often a mixture of both persons involved: the subject and the photographer.
Sebi: A lot of your work is in Black & White. Please tell us your reasons.
Stefan: I’m fond of black and white photography, I have to recognise it. With color being a strong element of composition it just “orchestrate” the picture by itself, in many cases. So, instead of “working” the shot, a good picture is often right in front of you, the only job for you being to take the shot. Without color, the attention is directed to lines, shapes, contours or even light itself. It makes you analyse the composition. In portraiture, as one great photographer once said, (if I’m not mistaken it was Ted Grant) in black and white you’re photographing the soul. But of course, if the colors in the frame “talk” to me, I’ll gladly make it a color photograph.
Sebi: What are your favorite lenses?
Stefan: I mostly use prime lenses. First and foremost because of the image quality. And because they are fast and compact. I also think that the best zoom is in your feet. My favourite lens is a 35mm f/1.4 Fujinon lens. It’s the one I use the most in my work. The perfect lens should be sharp, bright and small – the little 35mm meets most of this qualities.
Sebi: What could be the difficulties / challenges involved in your photography?
Stefan: Difficulties? I don’t know, I try to keep it simple. One of the rules for a good photograph is to keep it simple. Many times we unnecessarily complicate things so they become difficulties. As for the challenging part, I’m constantly trying to challenge myself with a new idea, a new subject, or a project. This keeps the little wheels spinning within my head.
Sebi: How much do you value post-processing in your work and how much time do you spend for it?
Stefan: Post-processing in photography is the most important touch of a photographer, after pushing the shutter release button. It defines the photographer’s vision of the subject. Still, I’m not confusing post-processing with digital art… They are two very different forms of visual arts and they should not be mistaken one for another. I simply prefer to spend more time with my camera in my hand, than in front of a monitor, retouching.
Sebi: There are some photographers you admire. Please name 3 of them.
Stefan: But there are so many more! Just three? Let’s see…OK, the one that I think traced the path of pure photography is Henri Cartier Bresson. The next one, who transformed the portraiture photography in art is Richard Avedon. And the third one is… Peter Lindbergh Irving Penn Jeanloup Sieff. I know, he has a long name. Seriously, there are a lot of photographers I admire, but the ones that impressed me most were those who made me look twice (at least) at a picture, that made me ask questions. And I have to mention one more, my favourite Romanian photographer: Aurel Mihailopol. So, here you have my three favourite photographers.
Sebi: Where do you find inspiration in your photography?
Stefan: Inspiration is the crave all those working in the artistic field feel. I try to find inspiration in everything, as everything has a story to tell. It may be a thing, a person, a place, a feeling, a song, a book. I tend to turn something on all its facets and study it, until it reveals its little secret to me. I just have to keep my eyes open and pay attention.
Sebi: Name a few tips that others could use in photography, based on your experience.
Stefan: That’s the hardest part. As I use to tell my students at my little photography course, one should not try to find the “Ten step-by-step solutions for the perfect photograph”. Instead, be inspired by the things around you. Pay attention to the little details. Look at the work of great photographers and ask yourself “why did he took this picture?”. Have your camera with you. Always. Be yourself and photograph what you like most. And the most important one: have patience!
I think you’ll enjoy reading this interview as much as I did. Now, I would like to thank Stefan Neagu for accepting my invitation to this interview, wishing him a great and inspired new year.
All photos – © Stefan Neagu 2017 / www.stefanneagu.com – Used with permission. Interview questions & introduction – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com