Stories from the Left Bank. Interview with Ramin Mazur

Ramin Mazur is a photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Chisinau, Moldova.  He graduated from the Journalism Department of Moldavian State University in Chisinau. In 2013 he had the possibility to attend the Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship in New York that had a great influence on his view on photography and on his working method. Using photography as a tool he observes the everyday life in those Eastern European countries that are still in transition and he makes an attempt to tell the stories of people living in these regions. The main characters of his recent series called the Left Bank are the inhabitants of his birth place, Transnistria, the unrecognized presidential republic situated on the left bank of Dniester.

 

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Ramin Mazur. photo by Ramin Mazur

Kinga Lendeczki: What does it mean today to be a photojournalist?

Ramin Mazur: I don’t know actually what it could mean. Same as I don’t know what it is to be a journalist today. In the times of easy access to any kind of information, journalism is not so meaningful thing as it used to be. Its old rules do not work any more, or if they do, it becomes the tool of propaganda to influence those who do not search for the proof of what they read or who are not sceptical enough. Forward-thinking journalism experiments with different mediums and try to use a less editorial approach and photography is just one of its tools (I am not talking now about a major corporation of news etc.). It will not advance people into action and it will not put focus on something by its own. We all know many iconic photographs and their influence, but I doubt if they would work in the same way these days. We live in a world of iconic posts and reshares.

Who I would call nowadays a photojournalist (taking it out of editorial context) is someone who stands between qualitative featuring and anthropology. People need to be reminded of the context of time and place, and that is the thing that journalism lost with being digitalized.

MAR-1
From Left Bank series.

KL: You studied at the Journalism Department of Moldavian State University in Chisinau and you worked with different local print media as a photo reporter for a while. What were/are the possibilities of a newly graduated photojournalist or photographer after leaving the institutional framework of the university?

RM: I graduated from the Journalism Department as a writer, but I received an offer for a photoreporter position during my last year at the university. It was a pre-election project of a well-known Moldovan oligarch. That was what I discovered eight months later when it closed and I had been left without a job for one year. So it is hard to say what are the possibilities for the professionals since they are not produced by the educational system. Outlets don’t need professionals as they simply don’t know how a photograph taken by a professional should look like, but we also don’t produce them. Vicious circle should be changed somehow to move further from this situation.

MAR-3
From Left Bank series.

KL: As it is written in your artist statement the lack of understanding in local media of what photojournalism is led you to start to work on independent projects. What were the difficulties you had to face with in finding your place as a photojournalist in Moldova?  How did the situation change, if it had at all, since then?

RM: Well I just wanted to do something deeper than just taking photographs for a newspaper and there was neither someone to help with that, nor someone who would appreciate that. So I started to look by myself for something which I would be interested in. Now I would do that completely other way round but as I said I was self-taught and that was my first experience. Being in a vacuum of the industry made complicated to generate something. After finding your topic or project you have to face with the fact that you have no place to expose it and there won’t be many people, who would be interested in it. Nowadays this situation did not move much further. I see more people and more initiatives, what is way better than it had been, but it is still not enough.

MAR-4
From Left Bank series.

KL: In frame of the Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellowship you had the possibility to continue your studies in New York. Compared to the Eastern European professional scene what were the most surprising differences for you?

RM: I was not aware of Eastern European scene those days so I am not sure if I can compare it somehow. One thing I can say for sure is that nowadays eastern europeans don’t rush so much to export things to west as they did before. Although westerners still want to import things except those small group of photographers who tries to do something meaningful in their own place without running for harsh stories from Third World countries. And that is what the actual industry needs today. Although it still goes for old, common stuffs, it really wants to see something new. Especially they are interested in view of locals and not of a “tourist”.

MAR-5
From Left Bank series.

KL: How did this fellowship influence your career?

RM: It was enormous input in my vision of photography. I started to doubt things more than before trying to understand the essence, approaches and meaning of things I am doing. Before it I was not sure if I was doing something useful because of the lack of feedback. But after this fellowship I just started to do whatever I want without seeking for some kind of appreciations. Do what you feel and see what happens.

MAR-8
From Left Bank series.

KL: Even before going to New York you crossed a significant border with moving to Chisinau from the region of Transnistria, where you were born. In your series called the Left Bank you captures the life of people who are living in this unrecognized state situated on the left bank of Dniester. Could you tell us more about this project?

RM: Shooting Transnistria started long before the series. It was occasional shootings that dragged me to a story, but after seeing how many foreigners come there for their projects, I understood that I want to avoid as much as I can to show the post soviet oddity of the place and rather focus on personal stories (including my family). I go there rarely for few days to do some pictures and when I come back I try to write something down from my memories. It is not over at all and I am not sure what form it will take at the end because life is changing each year and the context of my work is changing with it. Together with photographing I am also trying to collect pictures from the inhabitants’ archive so they would share their stories as well.

MAR-6
From Left Bank series.

KL: Why is it important for you to collect and share these stories from this region?

RM: I just like to react on things that matter for me. Transnistria is not exception cause  I spent my childhood there, but at some point I caught myself that I have no memories from it. So one by one I was restoring these memories and taking photographs is one of the methods I use for this.

MAR-12
From Left Bank series.

KL: Both as a photojournalist and as a documentary photographer you strive for storytelling. What kind of aspects are essential for you when you take and select photos for a series or for a story?

RM: Being terribly perfectionist sometimes helps me to define if a picture works without thinking too much. I don’t like when pictures make me think. I want them to make me stop, feel and rethink what I saw. Not sure that the photo will have something original to say, but the result matters at the end. All of us want to have a perfect picture that represents what we see. The only difference is that some of us are waiting, others are running and some are  don’t know yet how to approach it. Important thing for me is not to run for moments frozen in time but to wait for time to be freezed in moments. I do like having my personal relation with the subject. If it is a person I can even not talk with him/her. First I need to feel what type of man is in front of me to make a good portrait. It is the same with other topics. I can’t shoot when I don’t understand well enough what I am doing and where I am standing.

MAR-14
From Left Bank Series

KL: What would be your next project?

RM: Not sure what will come first but it might be more conceptual work about rural migration.

The article was originally published on the 6th of May, 2016 on ArtGuideEast.

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