The DIY Photographic Darkroom in Times of Opposition during Romania’s communist era (1947-1989)

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


Photography had an interesting status during the communist era in Romania (1947-1989). Neither strictly forbidden or censored, nor widely available, the relationship with photography was complicated, for people were allowed to own a camera and take photographs, as long as they depicted people as ‘nice and happy’. Although the Socialist Realism aesthetic was not strictly imposed by the regime, photographic image production was regulated in indirect ways and (self-)censored to some extent. For example, the lack of quality photographic and darkroom equipment, supplies and training available during the communist era (including the inability to study photography at university level until 1990) restricted both amateur and professional photographers from creating work and required them to develop self-taught techniques and knowledge inside and outside the photographic darkroom. This could be understood as a subtle way of limiting image-making practices that were transformed into self-developed prints in the photographic darkroom, whilst further complicating the status of photography. It was, then, a question of courage and opposition to take photographs that were arguably outside the sphere of what was deemed ‘safe’ to photograph. Within the context of photography during Romania’s communist era, this paper seeks to explore the photographic darkroom as a risky place and setting amateur and professional photographers established in their homes to self-develop prints that depicted people’s everyday lives, struggles and experiences. Ultimately, these photographic and darkroom practices not only opposed the regime’s ideology but affected how people conceptualised and understood photography under the totalitarian regime. Although the photographic movement in Romania did not produce a photographic canon matching that of Western Europe and the USA during the same time period, the DYI photographic darkroom nevertheless enabled people to produce prints that are of historic value.
Period8 Jun 2023