Mihai Barabancea takes Romanian photography to a spectacular extreme, without setting out to do so. Hard to swallow and even harder to forget, his first collection of photos arranged as a book will be released on March the 4th, at the French Institute. Mihai Barabancea is an infamous figure when it comes to Bucharest’s street art, difficult to fit in a standard pattern. The book Rewriting the Sequence can’t be anything short of a massive ripple, which will awaken interesting reactions. Read the interview with Mihai and take part in our second contest to be featured in an insider, for a chance to win an object that’s hard to buy: Rewriting the Sequence – the book, ltd. ed., #180/500. Enjoy!
Keywords: photography, hyper-realism, street, the bible of the rejects
This is what feeder would like to know about you:
Every day… I miss you.
I want … you to come back to me.
Through the lens I discover… how to forget what I see.
Most often I download… visions from the future.
100… % a sweet lie.
I prefer speaking…in tongues.
Sage… Silverback 2000.
A weird place in Bucharest… her sweat… like a waterfall of baby tears.
3 artists who inspired you… who would I do a Threesome with?
Feeder: Mihai Barabancea’s story begins with the graffiti movement in Romania, him being one of the few people who introduced this word to Bucharest’s vocabulary. We can only imagine that it gave you an entirely particular outlook on the city. How was it back then, how is it now, what changes did you notice?
Mihai Barabancea: I’m not so sure about the whole Bucharest vocabulary thing, but what I do know is that at the beginning, in ’99-2000, there were too few actually interested in graffiti and we automatically got to know each other, to assemble into crews. Everything was virginal, tender… I felt like I was discovering something new.
In the age of the landline telephone, the city was clean… this I can say for sure…
So we started organizing outings of 10-15 people and bombarding. It was a unique feeling, being as extreme as possible and hitting the most locations. What I noticed was that, similarly to dolphins having echolocation, writers are very good at finding their bearings; if they see a cropping of a photo they can immediately identify the place based on the arrangement of the tags in the background… The question was about the city, but It, like us, is changing… and we were also in a phase, we were a layer of what’s happening today, nothing stays the same…
F: How did you switch from graffiti to photography and what was your motivation?
MB: I became a Lone Rider, no longer interested in “getting my name up”, I went on to focusing on abstract geometry and drifted away from the lettering. Obviously, I distanced myself from the street and looked for places where I wouldn’t be disturbed and where I could concentrate. Because they weren’t inaccessible places, I started archiving my work and so I began to discover photography as an auxiliary factor.
I learned a lot from graffiti / street art and I felt that I needed to experiment and apply those principles to other subjects. It’s only by chance that I had some results in a dead field like photography, it’s like starting to play rock’n’roll in 2015…
F: We all refer to the current age as the digital era, characterized by gadgets, megapixels, and terabits. How did you decide to stop the clock for certain moments and capture them on film, printing them onto a physical format afterward?
MB: Every time I made an appearance with my DSLR people asked me what television channel I was from. Since they weren’t commercial photos, I wanted to experiment and focus on feeling rather than quality, so in ’10 the black ops period begins, with the 35mm Point & Shoot camera I started shooting with, snapping what I thought was called street photography, but I realized it’s unnatural to think that you’re assuming one style or another… why not bring them all together in your work? You’re more than any one style!
When it comes to photography on film, it’s an entire process and a ritual in itself, you have 36 shots and you’d better not waste them. Then “be like water” – adapt and get your shot “by any means necessary!!” and in case it backfires, under no circumstances should you surrender the film in your camera, even if your physical safety is at risk. What follows is the developing and the scanning, then you can leisurely see the pictures on a screen while enjoying a cocktail…
F: You said working with subjects is a challenge and a performance and the images taken out of context don’t represent real scenarios, they go beyond art and become hyper-reality. How do your characters perceive you? Are you in the habit of showing them the pictures, after you develop them? What impact do you think you have in their lives?
MB: Reality on steroids… it has nothing to do with the mundane details, they transcend physical boundaries (names, places). In order to generate this interdimensional hyperspace, interaction with the characters is required… What’s important is to be zen and not argue with anyone. I bring the pictures back to some of them and they’re glad, whereas others I never get to see again… if I like them I’ll buy them a beer because that’s how it works in an ecosystem. Basically, you have to know how to approach people, so as not to scare or annoy them… unless you want them angry in that particular shot. The boys in Bucharest are the most street-smart if you go to other cities people are happy to have you take their photo, but here you have to be ready to play dirty.
F: Going through the 119 photos which comprise the book, I noticed a transition between the images, and the course seems to make sense from one end to the other. What’s the story behind the book? What served as inspiration?
MB: The book Rewriting the Sequence isn’t for everyone, it presents some images which can’t be forgotten so easily once you’ve seen them…
Its vibration penetrates through several layers of your being. I don’t believe people are ready to accept its contents, they’re still caught up in their preconceptions, but Rewriting the Sequence is precisely about going against stereotypes and discrimination, it’s about the limitations we inflict upon ourselves… Everything that happens to us is due to the roles we assume or are predisposed to interpret.
The characters in Greek tragedy are timeless, they go in an Audi and grill by the stove.
For the layout of the book I tried countless versions, I worked for a few solid months just to get the rhythm and the musicality right, only to break them up afterward so that I could destabilize them. The main collective character goes through several universes and in the end, finds redemption. The images went through numerous filters and finally they chose themselves, organically, the way atoms align into configurations.
F: Knowing that taking the photos was a long process, spanning four years, at what time did you realize that this collection would be published into an album? Did you know from the beginning or did the idea emerge along the way?
MB: I was shooting a lot of material, so I started editing Dummies every year on my own, and after my accidental encounter with Nicu Ilfoveanu in 2011, who saw an early version of Rewriting the Sequence, he suggested I made a book in multiple copies. I started focusing solely on this, it being my only target, I didn’t have time to leak images on the Internet, I was patient and I knew the moment would come.
F: We’re lucky to have had the chance to enjoy a copy before the release. That’s how we discovered a lot of interesting things, but there are a few aspects of the presentation of the book which particularly drew our attention. First of all the circulation, how did you choose it? Where did you get the printing done, the binding? Who did you work with? How long did it take to make such a product?
MB: The 500 copy circulation is standard due to the AFCN financing. The printing and the binding were made at Atelier Fabrik and took longer than a regular book because we tested countless versions before we agreed upon this formula. The album required several handmade stages. The gilding of the edges conjures up a religious album and the saint on the cover bearing a thorn halo was made at a high printing machine. The exterior contrasts with the contents. The album’s foreword is signed by the writer Bogdan Ghiu.
F: Since we talked about the book, I think it would be nice if you could tell us about the book release. Where is it taking place, who did you invite to speak, who will be in charge of the music?
MB: The book release will be on March the 4th at the French Institute, in the Elvira Popescu cinema hall to be more precise, because like the book’s title suggests, Rewriting the Sequence is a film itself – a photo novella. The entertainers will be myself, Bogdan Ghiu, Nicu Ilfoveanu and our musical or visionary guests.
F: What changes do you anticipate will take place in the future? What are your plans for the year 2015?
MB: I don’t want to repeat myself, I’m bored of Rewriting the Sequence. I’m currently working on my next photo book, again with street images but I’m approaching a different aesthetic, less pop.
F: What’s the most noteworthy experience you had while working on the book?
MB: There were several, but that’s something I’ll be discussing at the release show, to which you are invited.
F: Feeder is celebrating 11 years of online activity and we’re preparing an update. What would you like to find on the new site?
MB: A cake… with a slightly inebriated stripper popping out of it!