ROMANIANS IN SPAIN. PORTRAITS - Iulian Adrian Zambrean: Taking pictures is a way of telling stories; it is what I feel, I am no professional

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Pictures are a way of telling stories - sometimes invented, sometimes abstract - of making the watchers wonder, feel something, as any other creator - writer, artist or painter - does.

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

To Iulian Adrian Zambrean, the winner of this year's fotoCAM photojournalism contest organised by the regional government of the community of Madrid, this year in its seventh edition, photographing is not a profession — and he does not consider himself a professional, he has the fears of any creative artist who gets enveloped by doubts over the lack of perfection in his work — but a way of being, an activity he hopes he can carry out his entire life, even if, while all others amass personal and professional successes and achievements, he is left with 'only a handful of pictures.'

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

Slightly nostalgic, but without losing his excitement over being able to travel and see the world, not knowing if he stays put or goes to other places, he dreams of coming back to Romania at some point in time to document in pictures the Romanian countryside. He sees as a landmark the first significant award he earned as a photographer, but at the same time, Iulian Zambrean argues that his future plans and projects are linked to his memories of Romania, the place he left eight years ago. 'I am dreaming of returning to Romania, to take pictures of villages such as the one where I lived — with cows, sheep and goats — and to document them. I want to go back to the villages where there still exist wooden watersheds, where women bear headscarves; I want to see again the cows coming to pasture, the villagers making ricotta, the autumn when the fruit of the earth is reaped,' he says, drafting away with his memories, and adding: 'I have done all this because I lived in the countryside; there are things and images returning to my mind as I fall asleep: I picture carts full of pumpkins that give off dust in the sun on a late autumn afternoon, the smell of the field when grass is mowed.'

'Winning the fotoCAM prize was a joy to me. Like any other person who ran in the contest, I wanted to win. But I did not expect to win, especially because I do not consider myself a professional, as I just take pictures of what I feel, how I feel and what I see. I suppose the award would open doors to me that were not open previously,' says Iulian Zambrean, now a documentary photographer with a newly founded news agency, where he works alongside photographers who have covered wars and conflicts and have written about conflicts, while taking part in investigations and having decades of experience.

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

'The day I took the winning picture,' Iulian reminiscences, 'I saw it before my eyes: a child with his hands on the window on an upper floor of a well-known building in Madrid overlooking a boulevard and also another famous building of the Spanish capital.' The photo dubbed La Espera / The Waiting was declared the best picture of the 12,000-euro contest prize. 'That's when I remembered a protest against cuts in public education spending that had occurred in the same place, on the same boulevards, in November of the previous year, and I said to myself children are the future as everywhere else; for a moment, a feeling of sadness overcame me. Then I saw the ad on the left, the 'feel good' ad and I thought that's it: as luck would have it, all that I could see got a positive message, and I was like telling the child: 'enjoy yourself while you are waiting.' According to the contest rules, only pictures depicting the current situation in Madrid with some recognisable place of the Spanish capital were accepted. The regional government of Madrid decided to create this award in recognition of the activity of Madrid's photojournalists who mirror every day, through their work, the current moment in the region, and Iulian Adrian Zambrean was named the winner of a contest in which experienced photographers from large Spanish newspapers competed.

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

To him, a dreamer in his own words, it is important to seize the moment. 'I try to seize the moments and oftentimes I see them, though not always. Sometimes I am not that quick as to catch them, but I like to look for them and let myself be surprised, because I believe that everything that happens to me one day is precisely to get to that moment, to that specific place,' he confesses. About photographing he just says 'it is my way of being — perhaps too much to say. But I'd like to do this, take pictures, my whole life.' A self-taught photographer who does not consider himself to be a professional because he feels there is always the fear above his head that 'one day, some place, someone will call me to take some pictures and I will take them wrong, and he will ask me what kind of a professional are you?' Iulian Zambrean started taking pictures of snails, flowers, nature, birds, butterflies, like any amateur or beginner. That is until one day, about five years ago, when he was at a bus station in Tarragona. 'On one afternoon, I saw a woman sitting cross-legged on a bench, waiting in the station, while behind her there was an advertisement showing some legs crossed mostly like hers. I thought it was funny to see how much the woman resembled the advertisement behind her, so I took the camera out, I took the picture, and that is how it all started. To me there are very few times when a picture without humans is a picture at all,' adds Iulian.

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

'I take pictures because I feel, because it is a way of telling stories, of narrating. You do not have to be a writer or a painter to tell stories. There are stories that sometimes I invent, and others that are abstract,' he says. The Romanian photographer says that from now on he 'cannot take any picture that does not have a history, something in it that makes the viewer wonder or feel something. Sometimes I try to make people feel one thing, and they feel something else completely different.' Iulian Zambrean has always liked photographing, but in Romania he did not have money for a camera. He left Romania because of hard living: he would earn 90 US dollars a month and had to pay 90 US dollars per month for a bachelor's flat. He came to Spain because he could not see a future for him in Romania. 'But I feel Romanian, and I feel Spanish as well,' he says. After living a "scattered life" — because, according to his own confessions, from the age of 12 Iulian has no longer had a steady home, successively changing homes, cities, beds and friends — but relying on a childhood spent in the countryside that left the Romanian village etched in his memory, with happenings and images he hopes to document some time, he arrived in Spain in 2006 and just one month later he bought his first photo camera he used to capture everything possible. "There was nothing special, it's just that I was intrigued by the fact that I wanted increasingly more. In that time, until I started to read and learn more, I thought that long exposure photos were the best that could be," he recalls. Later on he joined an association of photobloggers. He went on trips with them, experienced what he considers "young age adventures." At one point, an older photographer with whom he came to establish a close friendship, told him during a coffee break on the seashore, as he was looking for a job short after being fired, that "he rather liked to take pictures of people, that he felt this was a way to document the age he was living in — gestures, pains, happiness, life, children." Iulian Zambrean too came to believe that a photograph with no human figures in it was no photo at all.

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

The day they announced him that he had won the top prize at the fotoCAM contest was exactly one year and a month after his arrival in Madrid. "I couldn't believe it, thinking that I had crossed the border between France and Spain because I didn't have an invitation; that I was the winner, I, the one who had started working on construction sites, I who felt I wasn't doing much even if I had some money and afforded to pay my rent," recalls Iulian Zambrean. He also admits that "back then I was young and everything seemed an adventure, but now, at 32, I just couldn't believe it — given that I had come here as an immigrant." He honestly admits that he knew Barcelona only from Freddie Mercury's song, that he didn't know what currency Spain has, he didn't remember it had a King and at the same time he was aware that his being in Spain was due to the whim of chance. "I would have gone anywhere there would have been someone to invite me," he confesses. The artist's soul emerges clearly when he goes even deeper and states: "Maybe I'll leave this place because this would be a departure to acquire knowledge; I wouldn't run away from something, it would mean following a call to experience something different, something new." He doesn't consider himself a professional, as he is all the time haunted by the anxiety of failure, but also because he believes that, even without the prize, "progress is rather personal, one shouldn't forget the goals that shift out of one's view when you win, the fears you always carry on your back."

Photo credit: (c) Iulian ZAMBREAN / PERSONAL ARCHIVE

Iulian Adrian Zambrean knows perfectly well who he is, where he comes from and how all this has influenced his life and feelings, where his roots are and recognizes his entwined cultural identity he now acutely feels as a Romanian in Spain. "I come from a village where I still caught eight years of communism, when people still worked the land in cooperative amalgamation and where you got soiled with mud whenever it rained. The only moments lined up in my childhood memories that I miss are the moments in the tilling season, fishing, harvesting, the smell of the field, the smell of vegetable stew, the smell of the earth," he again revers in the past. He further deeply feels the connection with the country because, he says, "there are things that we have experienced first-hand." Meanwhile, Iulian Zambrean speaks of how the Romanian and the Spanish cultures entwine deep within him and advances into some sort of rarely nuanced introspection: "After having lived here in the cities of cement, concrete and glass, I sometimes seek refuge in the village, in the field, in open places." Just as some writers spend their whole life writing the total, the complete novel that should encompass everything they wanted to convey, for the young Romanian photographer "the total photograph would be one that includes the images and memories of my childhood, the moments of Romania, with people still wearing rubber boots, women who knot their hair under kerchiefs in the wine making season, who take part in the traditional slaughter of the hog, in harvesting and fishing." For him, what matters is the place he is in and he looks at this through the lens of awareness that it has all been a chance: "If I hadn't emigrated, I probably would not have had the chance to do photography at all," Iulian Zambrean reflects. AGERPRES

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