Ce este Steampunk?
Radesti Loop
Chicago Loop comunicat
Luca Arnaudo about Nicu Ilfoveanu
Photography in Contemporary Art. Trends in Romania after 1989
The Steam of Punk
caméra-box
Investigations into Peripheries in Romanian Photo Books (2010 – 2015)

>> scroll down for english >>

Nicu Ilfoveanu e o exceptie. Unii l-ar putea numi anacronic, si neconsiderandu-l contemporan, l-ar cataloga probabil “modern”, in acel sens (care mai nou a devenit un poncif superficial) al modernitatii ce presupune excitarea medium-ului, a materialului, descoperirea si imblanzirea sa. Poate ca asa e. Poate ca e intr-adevar “modern”. Sau poate ca nu incercam sa citim fotografiile lui Nicu asa cum ar trebui, fara prejudecati legate de trendul sau practicile uzuale ale fotografiei contemporane. O privire atenta si proaspata va descoperi in fotografia lui Nicu o vibratie contemporana reala, plasata nu in subiect, ci in frumusetea convulsiva a obiectului, a fotografiei insasi. Actor vivace si constant al scenei de arta contemporana inca de la inceputul anilor 2000, Nicu Ilfoveanu vorbeste intr-un limbaj special, unic in parcul stilistic al artistilor tineri romani.
Isi termina studiile universitare in prima generatie a catedrei de fotografie si video de la Universitatea Nationala de Arta din Bucuresti, generatie “legendara”, avandu-i ca profesori pe Iosif Kiraly si pe Radu Igazsag. Incepe sa expuna inca de la absolvirea liceului in 1994 si se misca agil atat in fotografie cat si in video. Are o apetenta predilecta pentru fotografia alb-negru, abordand-o recent si pe cea color, asupra careia se concentreaza actualmente.
Ca o reactie de defulare vizavi de cenzura tematica de pana atunci, fotografia anilor ’90 e invadata de corpul uman. Acesta domina tematica majoritatii artistilor ce lucreaza cu fotografia, fiind la inceput o tema tabu care soca o arta inca pudica si un public ce suprapunea fotografierea corpului gol pornografiei. Totusi, tendinta de a recupera acest moment al artei moderne, cu o intarziere de cateva zeci de ani, se transforma intr-un trend al artei contemporane romanesti, alaturi de tema “Romaniei in tranzitie”. In acest context, peisajul este un subiect uncool, rezervat fotocluburilor (care din organisme cu autoritate devin reziduuri culturale stigmatizate) si amatorilor, un subiect fara suficienta incarcatura polemica, care e tratat prin traditie intr-o maniera idilica, vetusta. Nicu isi asuma riscul peisajului in multe dintre seriile sale, isi asuma pana si idilismul acestuia in unele cazuri (uneori e atat de dezarmant acest idilism incat devine greu de suportat pentru un muzeu imaginar obisnuit cu look-ul mai sec al fotografiei contemporane uzuale sau pentru un ochi insuficient de sensibil), si o face cu eleganta, cu finete, dublate de o sensibilitate neostentativa, introducand in subtextul fotografiilor elemente cuturale care nu le permit acestora sa cada in formal si in acel tip de metafora ieftina, dar ambalata profesionist. Uneori Nicu te “lucreaza” doar prin atmosfera, aceasta alunecand subtil de la idilic la un postapocaliptic rural cu accente industriale. Nicu fotografiaza afectiv. Printre peisaje, el presara personajele balcanice, de tranzitie, sincer dezinteresate de orice critica a conditiei lor. Nicu fotografiaza “personal”.
In seria “Portret al artistului fumand la -68 de grade Farenheit” il gasim pe Nicu jucandu-se cu mediul fotografic si obtinand compozitii cu un personaj spectral in decor ivernal, care “arde” fotografiile cu varful tigarii, creand astfel un joc al prezentei si absentei, al urmelor in miscare si nu in ultimul rand al compozitiei tonale a fotografiei. Caci, de la bun inceput trebuie spus ca pentru Nicu Ilfoveanu alb-negrul nu este o scuza, nu e o rezolvare tehnica facila si de efect si nici unicul mobil al fotografiilor sale, ci un statement estetic: fotografii pe film, scoase pe hartie. Prin alb-negru Nicu nu evita sa-si puna probleme de continut, de mesaj, nu foloseste tehnica drept paravan ci pur si simplu se exprima intr-un limbaj a carui rara folosire in arta contemporana il face si mai savuros. Atentia pentru hartia aleasa, tirajul executat de artist, care alege sa pastreze unele “defectiuni” ale filmului, creand o plasticitate low-tech (care ar risca sa cada in kitsch daca n-ar fi bine controlata), toate dovedesc directionarea spre obiect a fotografiilor lui Nicu.
In fotografiile sale cu peisaje “atinse” cu palma, Nicu adauga o componenta activa interfetei peisaj - fotograf, acea palma care construieste fotografia, personificandu-se si plasand artistul intr-un atunci, acolo fara echivoc, ce eludeaza bariera intrinseca a mediului fotografic, cea dintre observator si subiect. Palma are de fiecare data alta personalitate, de la una patata de nuci verzi, la una ce brutalizeaza peisajul devenind uneori silueta unui monstru marin ce tocmai plonjeaza in ape sau eclipseaza soarele. Alteori, artistul exploateaza acest laitmotiv (probabil si un soi de autoportret simbolic) prin inserarea, de exemplu, doar a unui deget care urmareste urma lasata pe cer de un avion sau din care “creste” firesc un copac. Intr-un cuvant, Nicu isi introduce prezenta in fotografie - intr-o maniera ce-i marcheaza stilul - modificand dupa bunul plac fortele ce guverneaza subiectul.
Aceeasi estetica low-tech, dar dusa pana la poetic, apare in seria de peisaje. Untitled, fotografiate in 1996, dar marite si printate pe panza doar in 2004. Peisajele simple, liniare, “miscate”, la care fimul si aparatul par sa fi opus cea mai mare rezistenta posibila, sunt realizate dupa o reteta clasica, de genul cer + teren + copaci / padure. Si totusi ele nu sunt oarecare, mizand pe (si aici artistul foloseste din nou unul din punctele sale forte) un soi de mister rezidual - aflat in aceasta atmosfera grea, incorecta - si pe senzatia ca fotografia ar fi fost facuta de aparat, nu de fotograf (intr-una dintre fotografii aparatul pare a se fi miscat singur pe cand surprindea un palc de padure la orizontul unui teren proaspat cosit). Pe langa toate acestea exista o frumusete oximoronica in aceste fotografii (trase cu un folding camera format 6x9 cm, pe film expirat, cu numeroase defecte la developare, decolorari, dungi, pete de emulsie desensibilizata, dar printate la 90x120 cm pe panza printr-un procedeu high-tech, pigment print) - rezultatul unui demers recent al artistului, acela de a submina sistematic cliseele ce privesc “calitatea”, “frumosul”, “kitschul” aratand ca exista cazuri in care sensibilitatea cultivata poate forta limitele acceptabilului artistic.
Seria de Fotografii de casa (Domestic Photos), realizate intre 1994 si 2000 il gaseste pe Nicu cautand prin arhiva proprie (nu cea de familie, caci nu sunt fotografii de familie asa cum numele seriei sugereaza in mod inselator, ci fotografii de casa, cuvantul domestic din traducerea titlului in engleza fiind cat se poate de potrivit) si scotand la iveala fotografii cu o valoare pur personala, fotografii dragi autorului, fara intentie artistica declarata. Tirajul de 10 scos pe hartie argentica de dimensiuni reduse, 10x15 cm, il prezinta pe artist intr-o gama minora a fotografiei pe care o practica. Peisajul e lasat sa se odihneasca (sau poate e inca neinceput, tinand cont ca fotografiile sunt facute in primii ani de facultate), cedand pozitia centrala situatiei. Personaje ale unei Romanii rurale de acum 10 ani, balcanice,
plasate in ecuatii imagistice mai fine decat cele ale lui Kusturica, spunand intotdeauna altceva decat ceea ce vor sa spuna, sunt in fotografiile lui Nicu objettrouvé, la fel ca si fotografiile insesi. Si daca pana acum, in fotografiile cu peisaje, Nicu era doar ochiul, si se pastra in afara cadrului, acum el intra in cadru, pozeaza. O femeie obeza trage un pui de somn in tren, afisand o mina rautacioasa. Click! }igani. Click! O lele din Maramures. Click! Un muncitor cu o pantera naiv desenata, tatuata pe piept. Click! Un tanar la scaldat, cu un sort negru “No.5”. Click! Acestea si inca alte cateva click-uri i-au ramas dragi lui Nicu.
Daca pana acum am analizat un Nicu in alb si negru, solar, aproape clasic, sentimental uneori, cautand frumosul intr-un subtext / context… argentic, de sfarsit de ani ’90, Nicu Ilfoveanu 2000+ capata un vibe mai intunecat, in mod paradoxal, sondand fotografia color, dar continuandu-si preocuparea pentru peisaj. Seria de Steampunk autochrome-uri (2005 - 2006) duce la limita posibilitatile tehnice ale materialelor fotografice. Transformat in Dr. Frankenstein, artistul revitalizeaza materiale fotografice expirate si aparate “moarte”,
experimentand cu ele si alterandu-le, intr-un sofisticat joc al controlului si hazardului.
***
How do you do that… thing you do?
Nicu says: Pozele sunt trase cu un box camera (un aparat foto “antic”, cu o singura diafragma foarte inchisa si un singur timp de expunere, suficient de scurt pentru a putea fotografia din mana) care are lentile netratate pentru culoare - nu se inventase filmul color pe atunci - pe diapozitiv 6x9, developat negativ (cross, prin proces C41).

De ce cu box camera?
Fiindca folosind-o ma pot concentra mai mult asupra a ce fotografiez, si nu asupra tehnicii. Practic, in faza asta aparatul si filmul fac aproape totul asa cum vor ele. Eu mai intervin doar dupa aceea, cand scanez cliseele si apoi le prelucrez fin la culoare in Photoshop.

De ce steam punk autochrome?
Autochrome e un procedeu fotografic pseudo - color inventat de fratii Lumiere pe la 1904 si folosit de divizia fotografica a armatei franceze in primul razboi mondial. Fiind un procedeu anevoios si incet, nu se puteau face fotografii in timpul luptei, asa ca toate autochrome-urile sunt peisaje idilice, dar in care e ceva din razboi. Si atunci, Societe Photographique de laArmee = SPA = SteamPunk Autochrome.
***
Culoarea poluata, interzisa si senzatia unui permanent layer lichid a steampunkurilor cu terenuri de fotbal suburbane (terenurile de fotbal sunt un alt laitmotiv la Nicu, aparand si in fotografiile sale alb negru mai vechi. Poarta de fotbal pare a constitui un element structural important in compozitia “studiilor” de terenuri), cu locuri de joaca, cu peisaje post-industriale, feroviare sau cu nocturne urbane,
culoarea completeaza conceptul bine orchestrat in care low-tech-ul nu este doar (anti)spectacol gratuit sau vehiculul unui experiment asupra peisajului. Totul se leaga intr-un sistem bine lubrefiat si aici ca si in alte fotografii ale artistului.
Nicu Ilfoveanu e o exceptie. Dribleaza cu mediul fotografic, cu figuri stilistice periculoase pentru un artist contemporan si o face ca un jucator versat. Desi el e tanar, fotografia lui Nicu Ilfoveanu e matura. Neo-pictorialismul sau agresiv, asumat si afisat, e fronda, dar si sensibilitate. Poate e unul dintre putinii fotografi romani pentru care mediul si continutul sunt indisolubil legate si, conceptual, nu rezista unul fara celalalt. Poate ca poetica lui Nicu nu e actuala, dar sigur e una lipsita de sabloane.

Cosmin Moldovan, 2006

Nicu Ilfoveanu is an exception. Some might call him anachronistic and, without recognizing him as a contemporary artist, would probably consider him “modern”, in the sense (which has recently become commonplace) of modernity which presupposes the excitement of the medium, of the material, its discovery and taming. Maybe it is true. Maybe in fact he is “modern”. Maybe we fail read Nicu’s photographs as we should, without prejudices related to the trend or the ordinary practices of contemporary photography. By taking a fresh and closer look at Nicuas work you discover a true contemporary vibration, one which is not placed in the subject, but in the convulsive beauty of the object, of the photo itself. Having been a lively and steady player on the contemporary art scene since early 2000, Nicu speaks a special language, unique insofar as the stylistic registers of young Romanian artists are concerned.
Nicu belongs to the first generation of students to graduate from the Photography and Video Department of the National University of Arts in Bucharest, a “legendary” generation taught by professors Iosif Kiraly and Radu Igazsag. However, he began exhibiting shortly after he graduated from high-school in 1994. He is skilled in both photography and video, blackand-white photography being his preference. He has recently started to work with colour photography and is currently focusing on it.
As a relief from the thematic censorship that was in place up until that time, the photography of the 90as was invaded by the human body. This was a prevailing topic that could be found in the work of most artists who dealt with photography, being a taboo topic which shocked a prudish art world and a type of audience who confused a picture of the naked body with pornography. However, the tendency to retrieve this moment of modern art tens of years later has turned into a trend of Romanian contemporary art, along with the theme “Romania in transition”. In this perspective, the landscape is an uncool topic, reserved for photo-clubs (which turn from authoritative bodies into stigmatised cultural residues) and amateurs, a topic which is not sufficiently controversial and which is traditionally viewed in an idyllic, obsolete manner. Nicu runs the risk of dealing with landscapes in many of his series, in some cases he even runs the risk of revealing its idyllic dimension / idealism (sometimes this kind of idealism is so disarming that an imaginary museum accustomed
to the more arid look of ordinary contemporary photography or those who do not have an eye for it cannot bear it). He does it with elegance and refinement, doubled by an unostentatious sensitivity, inserting cultural elements in the subtext of the photographs which do not allow the latter ones to become formal or to turn into trivial yet professionally used metaphors. Sometimes Nicu “works” only by atmosphere, subtly moving from an idyllic to a post-apocalyptic rural landscape with industrial tinges. Nicu takes photos affectively. Balkan characters in transition who are frankly disinterested in any criticism of their condition are interspersed amid landscapes. Nicu takes photos “personally”.
In the photographic series “A Portrait of the Artist Smoking at 68 degrees Fahrenheit”, Nicu plays with the photographic milieu and creates images with a spectral character in a winter backdrop, “burning” the photos with the tip of the cigarette, thus giving birth to a play of presence and absence, of moving traces and, last but not least, of the photoas mixture of hues. Black and white photography is not an excuse for Nicu Ilfoveanu. It is not a facile technical and effective solution, nor is it the unique reason behind his photos, but an aesthetic statement: film photographs processed on paper. By taking black-and-white photos, Nicu does not neglect to ask himself questions related to content and message. He does not use technology as a screen, but simply expresses himself in a language whose rare use in contemporary art makes it more delightful. The special attention paid to the way in which he selects the photographic paper, the printed process carried out by the artist who prefers to preserve some “flaws” of the film, thus creating a low-tech plasticity, (which would run the risk of falling into kitsch if it were not well controlled), proves that Nicu’s photos are object-oriented. In his photographs showing landscapes “touched” with his palm, Nicu adds an active component to the interface between the landscape and the photographer. That palm which constructs the photo personifies itself and places the artist in an unequivocal then, there, which erases the boundary between the observer and the subject, it being intrinsic to the photographic medium. The palm has a new personality every time. A palm spotted by green nuts turns into one which brutalises the landscape, sometimes becoming the silhouette of a marine monster that is diving into water or eclipses the sun. There are cases in which the artist exploits this theme (probably also a kind of symbolic self-portrait) by inserting, for instance, only a finger which points to the trail left by a plane in the sky or from where a tree “grows” naturally. In a word, Nicu makes his presence felt in the photography, in a manner which marks his style, changing the forces which govern his subject to his liking.
The same low-tech yet poetically charged aesthetics is present in the landscape series Untitled, pictures taken in 1996, but blown-up and printed on canvas in 2004. The simple, linear, “moved” landscapes to which the film and the camera seem to have opposed as strongly as possible are taken according to a classic prescription, such as sky + field + trees / forest. Yet, they are not taken at random, counting on a sort of residual mystery (and again here the artist uses one of his strengths) - that pervades this heavy inappropriate atmosphere- and on the impression that the photo would have been taken by the camera, not by the photographer (in one photo the camera seems to have moved alone while capturing a clump of trees on the horizon of a freshly mowed field). Moreover, these photos show an oxymoronic beauty (taken with a folding camera, 6x9 cm format, on expired film, with numerous flaws when processed, off-coloured, with stripes, spots of desensitized emulsion, yet printed on 90x120 cm canvas by a high-tech procedure called pigment print) - being the result of a recent approach by the artist which consists in systematically undermining the cliches regarding “quality” or “the beautiful”, “the kitsch” showing that there are cases in which cultivated sensitivity can push the limits of what is artistically acceptable.
Domestic Pictures, completed between 1994 and 2000, shows Nicu looking through his own archive (not the family one, for they are not family photos, such as the name of the series may misleadingly suggest, but domestic photos, the word domestic in the English translation of the title being very fitting) and disclosing personal photos, extremely dear to the author, with no marked artistic intention. The edition of 10 prints processed on 10x15 cm small-sized argentic paper, presents the artist insignificantly characterising the type of photography he deals with. The landscape is put aside (or perhaps he is yet to have begun working with it, taking into account that the photos were taken during his early years at university) and the situation takes the central position. Balkan characters belonging to rural Romania 10 years ago, placed in imagistic equations finer than those of Kusturica, always saying something different than what they mean, are an objet-trouvé in Nicu’s photos, just like the photos themselves. If Nicu has so far been the eye in photos, showing us landscapes and being outside the frame, now he becomes part of it and takes pictures. A fat woman dozes off while on the train, displaying a nasty look. Click! Gypsies. Click! A young woman from Maramures. Click! A worker with a naively drawn panther tattooed on his chest. Click! A young man bathing in “No.5” black shorts. Click! These and other ’clicks’ have remained very dear to Nicu.
If so far we have analysed a black and white, solar, almost classic and sometimes sentimental Nicu who seeks the beautiful in an argentic subtext/context of the late a90s, Nicu Ilfoveanu 2000+ acquires a darker vibe, paradoxically probing colour photography and continuing to be concerned with the landscape. The steampunk autochromes series (2005 - 2006) stretches the technical possibilities of photographic materials to the limit. Transformed into Dr. Frankenstein, the artist revitalises expired photographic materials and “dead” cameras, experimenting with them and altering them in a sophisticated game of control and hazard.
***
How do you do that… thing you do?
Nicu says: The photos are taken with a box camera (an “antique” camera with a single enclosed aperture and a single exposure, short
enough not to need tripod in order to take photos) which has a non-colour lens - the colour film had not been invented at the time -
on 6x9 slide, negative processed (cross, by the C41 process).

Why box camera?
Because when I use it, I can concentrate on what I capture rather than on technique. Virtually the camera and the film do almost everything they want at this stage. I intervene afterwards, when I scan the negatives and slightly process their colour in Photoshop.

Why auto-chrome steam punks?
Autochrome is a pseudo-colour photographic procedure invented by the brothers Lumiere around 1904 and used by the photographic
division of the French army in the First World War. Being a difficult and slow procedure, one could not take photos during the battle, so all autochromes are idyllic landscapes which display, however, snapshots of war. And then, Societe Photographique de l’Arme = SPA = SteamPunk Autochrome.
***
The polluted, forbidden colour and the sensation of a permanent liquid layer of steam punks with suburban football grounds (football grounds are another reoccurring theme of Nicu, and are also present in his older black and white photos. The goal seems to represent an important structural element in the making of playground “studies”), playgrounds, postindustrial and railway landscapes or urban floodlights. The colour adds to the wellarticulated concept in which low-tech is not only a uncaused (anti)show or the vehicle of an experiment on the landscape. In these photos, just like in others, the artist connects everything in a well-articulated system.
Nicu Ilfoveanu is an exception. He juggles with photography, with metaphors that are dangerous for a contemporary artist, and he does it like a well-versed player. Though young, Nicu Ilfoveanuas photography is mature. His assumed, blatant and aggressive Neopictorialism is translated as rebelliousness and sensitivity at the same time. He may be one of the few Romanian photographers for whom the medium and the content are interdependent and conceptually cannot resist one without the other. Nicu's poetics may not be a present one, but it is certainly one devoid of patterns.

text by Cosmin Moldovan, 2006