A photographer, writer, explorer and philosopher, Andreea was born in 70s Romania and made England her home in the early noughties. Andreea has a Masters in Photography from Falmouth University and a BSc in Philosophy from the University of Bucharest. Her creative practice explores questions of personal identity and memory especially through the lens of her dual cultural heritage. Andreea is also a photography tutor and runs a photography tour business with her photographer partner Matt.
Andreea’s most recent project The Fabric of Memory was produced during the final year of her MA studies and is being exhibited at the Horsebridge Art Centre in Whitstable in February 2023.
For this project Andreea traveled back to her native homeland in an attempt to rediscover and reconnect with her roots. Marcel Proust said ‘the past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object’. Andreea’s visual story explores this notion, driven by place, and is a constant dialogue between past and present, familiarity and estrangement. New images, all produced using old family film cameras and expired period film, are interspaced, and sometimes juxtaposed with family archive images and snippets of discursive memory in a visually coherent way. Andreea creates an atemporal space where there is deliberate ambiguity about what’s past and what’s present, and where empathetic connections are made with older family members as individuals, rather than in their familial roles.
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These days, it’s mostly photography (both digital and film) with a side of creative writing. Photography and writing have both been hobbies all my life, but they’ve slowly and decisively taken over in recent years. Lately, my writing turned more memoir, and the photography also became increasingly autobiographical. I’m hoping to combine the two into my art in the future and also experiment with sound and video, for a more immersive experience.
I was born in the 70s in Romania – behind the iron curtain. I come from a loving family who, despite all the incredible hardships of the late 70s and 80s Romania (which now inform my practice to a great extent) invested all their love into the wellbeing of my sister and me.
Funnily enough, when I was very little, I always said I wanted to be a foreign artist when I grew up. I remember my parents being a bit cagey whenever I declared that in public – you weren’t supposed to dream of anything ‘foreign’.
My dad was a keen hobbyist photographer - I owe him for the fantastic family archive that I sometimes use in my work. I remember our small windowless bathroom occasionally turning into a dark room to process the films ourselves. Witnessing an image slowly forming on paper in the developing tray for the very first time was a magical experience.
When and where I grew up, being an artist wasn’t really an option. Anyone with a creative streak had to use their spare time to exercise and enjoy it – I often wonder if my parents, both qualified structural engineers, and very good at it too, would have chosen something else if they were born in the West. In his spare time, my dad was an art painter and photographer, my mum an avid reader and lover of literature.
At the first chance I had to choose, once the system changed and we became a ‘free’ country in the 90s, I moved away from sciences. Writing, pursuing photography, and ultimately studying philosophy for my degree, it was all an explosion of creativity and a sign of rebellion against any trends with any shred of pragmatism involved – when most of my peers were studying to become lawyers or accountants (nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t me!).
But I never intended for any of these to be career choices – or maybe that wasn’t really an option yet. Instead, after I graduated, I wanted to ‘make a difference’ and became heavily involved in NGO and international organisation work to ‘rebuild’ Romania, from public policy to grass-roots programmes and consultancy. Almost a decade later, disillusioned about the impossibly slow pace of change, when an opportunity arose, I made the permanent move to England. Here, I spent the best part of the next decade building a life in a new homeland, which meant I had to focus on more pragmatic paths (but it was for a good cause) and leave creativity in the backburner for a while. But then it all changed.
Gradually, my creative streak and my hobbies started to claim me. I had a very satisfying and extremely well-paid consultancy job but found myself spending all my free time and holidays writing or taking photos. I needed more time, and time was more and more scarce. I found myself constantly negotiating sabbaticals! During an unpaid break in early 2016, I decided it was time for a change. I left the consultancy world to start a photography business with my partner Matt.
We were both self-taught and, although competent and passionate photographers, we were entirely uninitiated in the business of photography, be it selling, teaching or curating. But we learned by doing and built a great business from scratch, including a gallery, a photography studio and a photography holiday business.
We both devoured photography: news, galleries, exhibitions, blogs, videos, films, books about photography, technique, everything. It was a lot, and very overwhelming. It was hard to channel our focus because we wanted it all. And in 2020 when Covid hit, our options were forcedly narrowed down. We were due to fly out to Japan to run our first photography tour there, when lockdown was announced, just a couple of days before our flight.
We spent a good few weeks in survival and rescheduling mode – on a personal and business level. And when it all settled, still unable to run 90% of our business activities, I said to Matt: you know what, I’ve been meaning to look into doing an MA in Photography for a while now, to which he said: me too! And there we were applying for degrees and student loans, feeling too old but childishly excited.
We were both accepted, and enrolled with Falmouth University for a 2-year part-time MA in Photography, in September 2020. We both graduated in 2022. Those two years were the most influential in shaping my ideas and sparking my creativity in the space of contemporary photography.
I think first and foremost I create art from a need to express myself and communicate in a non-verbal way, to connect at a deep level, first with myself and then with the outside world. My work during the MA years had turned very autobiographical, almost by stealth, first driven by the restrictions of lockdown and the impossibility of creating images in the outside world, or with other people – this lead to spending time in my studio working on self-portraits and autobiographic visual stories. Once I opened that tap and allowed myself to approach this very difficult theme, I couldn’t stop!
Before the MA, what triggered my creativity was mostly intuition, emotion and sensorial stimulation – I would walk with my camera and capture things that grabbed me, a street scene, a portrait, a ‘decisive moment’ or a landscape scene. I still like to do that and wander about with no particular intention and capture what ‘moves’ me. But recently I’ve become more interested in following a more rational path to storytelling through photography, a very different way of creating art but extremely satisfying as it adds depth to the creative process.
Probably the fact that it’s extremely honest. I don’t create work to fit in with norms or formulas - unless, of course, it’s a specific commission – but allow myself to be led by my intuition, emotions, thoughts, history, or ideas. I love to experiment with various photographic mediums and also to combine art mediums - it puts me in a constant state of flux with my creative ideas and ambitions.
Like many creatives out there, I am sure, I can be my worst critic, so the times that I created something that I absolutely loved, standing in front of the screen or the print with unquestioned feelings, were golden moments. I could give a few examples of recent project work that made me feel this way, like the main image of the falling fabric from ‘Tales from the Silk Factory’ or a couple of the images created for The Fabric of Memory. The icing on the cake is others also loving and cherishing these images!
Before my “Fabric of Memory’ project is shown to the world, I shared it for feedback with a few peers and friends. One of them is my best friend from a long time ago in Romania who had since become an art gallery owner and curator having curated numerous contemporary art exhibitions across the world including Frieze London, New York, Art Basel. I’ve asked her to look at the work with her ‘curator’ eyes, and this is what she said:
‘The project "The Fabric of Memory" makes me feel very emotional and nostalgic. I've known the artist since we were 16 and we've spent a lot of precious and wonderful time together. I identify with this project not only through my own teary recounts, but through all the memories I have with Andreea's family. That was in a time when almost everybody in our families was healthy and alive, and we were careless and free. The way Andreea put together this delicate network of thoughts and feelings, the warm melange of sadness and longing with the lightness of childhood is outstandingly smart and beautiful. I think it was really difficult to manage the fragility of the heart and spirit, the balance between "tristesse" and remembrance. The images are intimate and layered, you can see the depth of an analogue camera, the strong material perspective of the old rolls of film. I totally immersed myself in the narrative of the different facets of Andreea, composing a person and revealing their background, showing a great amount of courage and adjustment, to make the viewers not only understand but also reflect to the countless possibilities and synchronicities of our personal histories.’
The ideas behind ‘The Fabric of Memory’ have since evolved and morphed into something much bigger, and I am most excited to have been accepted by the University of the Arts London (UAL) as a PhD researcher to explore the notions of personal identity, memory and place further. My proposal also includes creating images and curating personal archives from fellow Romanians across the world that tell the story of post-war pre-1989 Romania especially the difficult decade of the 1980s which formed most of my childhood and early teenage years.
At the moment, it’s the one I just described, and I just hope that it becomes a reality very soon, as much of the work will depend on the ability to find funding and willing collaborators.
So many to choose from! I will try to limit myself to creators that inspired my most recent work, such as Magnum photographers Mark Power, Olivia Arthur and Gerard Depardon, Shimon Attie, Ishiuchi Miyako, Chino Otsuka, Zineb Sedira, Shirin Neshat, Thomas Sauvin. From the connections through underlying themes, to delivery methods or autobiographic content, I found inspiration in all of their work and they positively influenced my “Fabric of Memory’ project.
For anyone who is passionate about photography, I would greatly recommend all the volumes of Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s ‘The Photobook: A History’ – you’ll need to find a library that stocks them, they’re massive and expensive to buy. They’ve been a Godsend as a starting point to research other photographers and get inspired. I do hope they keep adding to the collection!
I can’t stress enough how important it is for anyone who’s passionate about photography to step away from the screen, the never-ending YouTube noise and Instagram feeds, and step into a gallery, look at photography books, read books about photography, talk to other photographers. Get back to the ‘why’ and stop obsessing over the ‘how’.
On a creative front, being mostly free from financial constraints so I can write and develop my photographic ideas as well as consume as much literature and art as possible, as unencumbered as possible. And to keep discovering the world. On a personal level, knowing that my loved ones are happy is my idea of happiness! It’s a symbiotic relationship. I’m generally happy any time I’m by the sea! For some ‘me’ time, since it’s winter at home, my idea of happiness is a roaring fire, a very nice glass of red wine, some classic jazz in the background, and a good book.
Somewhere in our upbringing – and it seems to be a common denominator across the cultures I’ve lived in – there is a hidden notion that life should happen in a certain sequence: you grow up, go to school, choose a career, make steps to achieve that, get married, have children, have grandchildren, retire, and die. Ok it’s overly simplified, but you get the idea. Maybe it was my philosophy studies that challenged such preconceptions, or my slightly non-conformist or rebellious nature, but from as far back as I can remember I opposed this notion. My favourite mantra is that life is not linear. Too many people get depressed because they think they failed at life, or it’s too late to do something. Between your birth and your death, which you have little control over, everything else is your playground, so spend that time in whatever way suits you, and don’t be afraid of embracing change in whichever form that may come.
There is an exhibition of my work at the Horsebridge Art Centre in Whitstable between 15 – 27 February 2023. I would love to meet anyone who is interested in my work or photography in general, please feel free to get in touch if you’re planning to attend and would like to meet me and have a chat.