Interview : Maria Gutu

Maria Gutu was born on 20th May 1996 she is a visual artist from the Republic of Moldova. Gutu studies at the Academy of Music, Theatre, and Fine Arts in Chisinau.

Gutu photographs life in villages, people and their activities, for her it is important to document the place she lives. Photography for her is a way of documenting her life, it is also an opportunity to tell stories. Maria states “I like villages, and people from these places, they are open and benevolent with me. I adore people's emotions, I try to document it.''

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BKN: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, about this body of work and how it all started?

MG: I was born on 20th May 1996 in a small city north of the Republic of Moldova. (I am a post-soviet child) I was very shy and introverted as a child. From a very young age I have been interested in literature and the arts, especially painting. When I left school, I became more interested in literature, I begun to study works by, Kafka, Dostoevski, Borges and the beat generation writers. Last year I became an art student, during this time I bought my first camera, a Nikon 90D. I am not a fan of digital cameras, although this camera gave me an opportunity to learn and take photographs intuitively. I photographed everything that touched me, people, nature and objects, as long as I got that feeling. Photography for me is like writing in a diary. At the very beginning of this process I did not notice there was a main theme. It was not until after I had a small collection of documentary photographs about the people around me that I understood.

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BKN: What would you say literature has brought to your photography? I am always interested when photographers say they read a lot, for me this shows an understanding of narrative and storytelling. A photographer can use one’s imagination in a completely different way. You also say you are not a fan of digital cameras, why is this and do you think you will work with digital in the future?

MG: Literature helps me to better understand people's character’s. This makes it easier to communicate with them. There is a close connection between literature and photographic art, in both cases we meet the imaginary and photography itself is part of fiction. Photography usually plays a descriptive narrative role in the text, by utilising photography in the narrative, the author draws imaginary relationships of desire and fear, leaving the camera to become an intermediary to this process. I am not a fan of digital cameras, but I now realize they are the best option for me, because of price, but unfortunately the digital camera lacks magic, I already know what I photographed and can delete what I do not like. I hope that I will work with film in the future.

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BKN: How would you describe the social and cultural politics in this work?

MG: I think photography helps me understand myself, places where I have lived and people I photograph. My country is still interesting to me, this year the Republic of Moldova is marking its 26th year of independence, but remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a big migration flow. I am interested in people that remain here, despite all the difficulties.

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BKN: How do you see photography help you understand yourself? When you talk about migration, do you mean people exiting or entering the country? How do you see migration affecting this generation of Moldovan’s? What future do you see for those who stay and will you document the social as well as cultural difficulties with migration in and out of the Republic of Moldova?

MG: Photographic art says a lot about the artist/photo-journalist, their interests, fears and hopes. Artwork is self-expression. I think the best artists and photographers are the ones who create work that reflects who they are and how they see the world. They put courage into it by making themselves vulnerable.

Migration strongly affects Moldova. Since 2004, more than a million people have left the country in search for a more prosperous future. Leaving behind thousands of children who are brought up by their elderly relatives or left at institutional boarding schools, so called Internats.

Young people have fled the country, leaving a dwindling elderly population as well as young children. Schools are forced to close and whole villages are erased off the map. Young people’s futures in Moldova, are still uncertain.

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BKN: Your photography deals with a claustrophobic incarceration of poverty and isolation (physical and mental). Could you talk a little about what inspires you to document these environments and people?

MG: My photography deals with a claustrophobic incarceration of poverty and isolation because of my own perception of events and people, this maybe because I am too sensitive. I am fascinated with showing parts of things and people that are often hidden. In my collages for example I try to study my own fears and nightmares, any artwork is a reflection of our own thinking, with all our nightmares, depressions and fears, with the purpose of overcoming them. Art affords access to the world of darkness where it is possible to feel and exist, where other people also exist – under tragic circumstances, in pain and in adversity, but where they nevertheless do exist, sharing their own brand of love, of solidarity and compassion. I like abstract images and compositions where emotions are the main theme.

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BKN: I agree with your comments on art, that it ‘affords access’, but I am also aware it can remove access depending on one’s experiences of it. Who or what would you say inspires your photography and would you describe your art as a therapeutic act?

MG: I am inspired by classical black and white photography. Artists I admire: Koudelka, Arbus and Rodchenko.

Photography is not only a form of art, it is also a means of expression and a way of communicating thought and feelings. Art can be a good form of therapy, and not just for those who are in the process of recovering from a tragic or sad incident, but for anyone who wants to know more about themselves and want to escape from states such as sadness, loneliness etc, states that everyone experiences. My art helps me feel more confident, it also helps me become a better human being.

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BKN: What experiences have been the most influential in terms of inspiring your photography and are there any stories you would like to share?

MG: I do not have particular inspirational experiences. Each place, person or event that was photographed remains more than a photograph, all processes are an act of self-knowledge. Photography for me is a very personal art, I need to feel free and alone when I am listening to people's stories. I love taking pictures of children that have different thoughts, (their own world). During two days of working alongside children with epilepsy I discovered it's possible to understand others without words and learn happiness from small things.

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BKN: You say you listen to people’s stories, do you ever write or record these personal human interactions about these experiences? I find as a researcher that the ‘photography’ is easy to find, it is the written documentation of a study/project I find difficult to obtain. I feel this is a major problem within the culture of photography. How important do you think it is to keep records, either written or recorded onto audio, and how did you come about being in a position to interact with epilepsy patients?

MG: I often write down notes and stories about my photography and work. I tend to keep these written studies to myself. I think it’s very important to keep records, this helps to understand the evolution of one’s work.

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BKN: Do you see this type of documentary photography as a long-term endeavour? If you do, how do you see this project progressing?

MG: I hope to continue documenting people and emotions that are interesting to me. To document in any medium: collage, photography and video. I see this work progressing into a multimedia project.

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BKN: How do you see video fitting into your creative narrative? I always get excited when photographers say they are working with video. I think it is a very important medium concerning documentation and archiving history via art making. Are there any plans for video projects in the future and if so could you talk a little about them? Finally, what would you desire to document in relation to your photography practice if you had the opportunity? This would be a study you have not yet had the chance to explore?

MG: I hope to integrate video and film into my practice in the future to document people within my country. I have explored very little about the places and people where I live. I want to discover more about myself through them. I would like to document people's lives from different cultures, ones that are totally different from mine. I am also interested in small communities that live isolated from the rest of the world.

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