The Home Darkroom during Romania’s Communist Era

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Photography had an ambiguous status during the communist era in Romania (1947-1989). Neither strictly forbidden, nor widely available, the relationship with photography was rather 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 supplies, darkroom chemicals and photography training available during the communist era (including the inability to study photography at university level until 1990) restricted most amateur and professional photographers from creating work and required them to develop self-taught techniques and knowledge inside and outside the photographic darkroom. Photographers with the intention to publish photography books were required to follow the regime’s ideology and edit/crop photographs accordingly. These examples could therefore be regarded as subtle ways of restricting photographic practices. It was, then, a question of courage and opposition not only to take pictures that were arguably outside the sphere of what was deemed ‘safe’ to photograph but also to process those films. With this in mind, this paper seeks to explore the DIY photographic darkroom as a risky place and space that amateur and professional photographers alike established in their homes to process films and develop prints that depicted people’s everyday lives, struggles and experiences during the ‘Golden Age’, arguably the darkest period during Romania’s communist era. Ultimately, the DIY photographic darkroom not only opposed the regime’s ideology but affected how people conceptualised and understood photography under the communist regime. Although the photographic movement during the communist era did not produce a photographic canon matching that of Western Europe and the USA during the same time period, the DIY photographic darkroom nevertheless enabled people to produce photographs that are of historic value.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)122-133
Number of pages12
Issue number41
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024


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