Silenced by oppression but resisting through photography: vernacular photography during Romania’s communist era (1947-1989)

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Compared to other countries of the former Soviet bloc, Romania did not experience many large-scale resistance movements until the Revolution in 1989. This paper explores vernacular photography as a form of opposition and survival to the regime. As one of the most repressive dictatorships of Eastern Europe, Romania’s communist past was characterised by the (neo-)Stalinist ideological system of fear, coercion and austerity, most often remembered for the last decade of Ceauşescu’s regime, when empty shelves, blackouts, petrol shortages and cold apartments dominated people’s perception of time. Although the all-powerful secret police, the Securitate, silenced people’s voices from speaking out and protesting against the grim conditions, this paper argues that people used vernacular photography as a tool to ‘speak out’ and contest the regime in subtle ways. Since owning a camera was not prohibited, photography created ‘free spaces’ in which people photographed their everyday lives and personal stories, thereby challenging the propaganda about the ‘Ceauşescu reality’.

Taking photography’s mnemonic property into account, this paper examines the camera not as a neutral recording device. Rather, it frames photography as an ongoing event that is entangled in webs of power, dialogue, resistance and agency, and involves several choices, meanings and social actors. By highlighting the complexity of vernacular photography, the paper aims to reveal untold narratives, silenced voices and repressed histories of Romania’s communist past, offer different interpretations of the past and orientate them towards the future. In so doing, the paper sheds light on photography in communist Romania, an underexplored research area.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSilenced Voices
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Oct 2022

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