Photographers' Blog

Lost dogs of Romania

 Bucharest, Romania

By Bogdan Cristel

I love dogs. I grew up with them around me all the time and I remember always having one with me when I played in my grandpa’s yard as a child.

Our dogs, just like thousands of others in Bucharest, were kept in the family garden. But everything changed in the city after former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu began a project to erase old houses with backyards and replace them with huge high-rise blocks.

As a result of the mass demolitions, many dogs were turned out on the streets and the number of strays increased year after year. Some 60,000 dogs roam the capital according to local authorities.

 

Thousands of people are victim to their bites and when in September 2013 a child was mauled to death, Romania’s government went into action. Parliament overwhelmingly backed a new law allowing local authorities to euthanize dogs caught in public spaces if a home could not be found for them within two weeks.

When I decided to cover this story, I tried to show both sides. That meant joining both the dogcatchers’ teams as they went about their work, and also documenting the efforts of various NGOs as they tried to save the animals.

Faces of Romania’s past

Slobozia, Romania
By Bogdan Cristel

Romania is proud to have produced a man thought by many to be the world’s first war photographer – Carol Popp de Szathmary, from the city of Cluj, who took photographs of the Crimean War in the 1850s.

One of the most impressive people to have followed in his footsteps is Costica Acsinte, another Romanian who worked as a photographer during the First World War. Below is an image of his taken on the front line.

Although I don’t usually spend that much time on social networks, it was on Facebook that I first came across Acsinte’s works.

Romania’s bankrupt town

Aninoasa, Romania

By Bogdan Cristel

Getting to Jiu Valley – once home to a powerful coal mining industry that has since fallen on bad times – is difficult. The main road there is currently closed to traffic three days a week because of repair works, so I arrived in the small Jiu Valley town of Aninoasa after driving for 7 hours on detour roads. It is roughly 330 kms (205 miles) to Aninoasa from the Romanian capital Bucharest.

Aninoasa is the oldest town in Hunedoara County, mentioned as far back as 1453 AD. But earlier this year it also became the first town in Romania to have filed for insolvency. It is a small town, with simple houses and ramshackle communist-era apartment buildings to house coal miners.

But the hard coal mine was closed in 2006, after it became too costly, low yielding and outdated to maintain. Today there are only a few coal mines still left in Jiu Valley. Unfortunately for Aninoasa, no replacement jobs have been created since the mine closed. At the abandoned mining site, goats graze and children play.

Snow as high as houses

By Bogdan Cristel

When I was little, my grandfather told me about the winter of 1954, when the army had to shovel them out from under snow so high it covered their house completely. I didn’t believe the story at the time as it seemed like a fib, a fisherman’s tale.

Well, I recently realized my grandfather wasn’t exaggerating. I had never before seen snow that would cover an entire house until this February.

This month I’ve been to eerie white villages, where you would never know what you would find buried under the hills of snow: a house, store, garage, stables, or a tractor. I took photos from atop utility poles. Frustratingly, I couldn’t use many of the pictures because there was no benchmark beyond the ocean of snow, nothing that could frame the incredible reality I was witnessing.

Losing my appetite at the pork festival

Since my return to Romania in January 2009, I longed to cover the pig festival.

A decoration made from salami and yellow cheese is seen on a table belonging to participants from Balvanyos village of Somogy county in Hungary, during the annual pork festival in Balvanyos, about 250 km (156 miles) north of Bucharest, Romania February 5, 2011. Pork features prominently in traditional East European cuisine and the slaughter of pigs is a thriving cottage industry in the countryside during winter. Teams from Germany, Hungary and Romania took part in the festival. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

My colleague Bogdan Cristel had covered it in past years. But I could not as I was assigned to edit and process the World Ski Championship, which takes place during the same period. Last year, I again edited skiing and thought that this year would be the same: me editing and Bogdan covering it. In January however, I was surprised when the organizers changed the date, providing me with the possibility to go and cover this story.

I remember as a child I once saw a pig being slaughtered, but my memory is blurred. As a city boy, living with my mother on the third floor and my grandparents on the first floor of an apartment block, I never experienced what was normal for village folk. For villagers, pigs, cows, chicken, ducks and geese were slaughtered in the backyard to provide food for the entire family. For me, all livestock came from butchers or supermarkets, frozen or fresh, nicely labeled and packaged.

A couple kisses behind pork meat hanging on display during the annual pork festival in Balvanyos, about 250 km (156 miles) north of Bucharest, February 5, 2011.   REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

What was of interest to me was how they slaughter the pigs. I wondered if they were using electricity according to European Union regulations or following a traditional method and using a knife? I discovered that traditional method is allowed during the festival, so people can see how it was done in the past.