Found in an Abandoned House in Northern Moldova, Zaharia Cușnir’s Photographs Have Been Published Online
January 5, 2020
The official presentation of the online archive of works by the amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir (1912–1993), who took pictures of northern Moldovan villagers in the 1950s and the 1960s, took place on January 3, 2020.
Three and a half years ago, while working on his graduation project, Academy of Arts student Victor Gălușcă found around twenty old photographic negatives amid trash in an abandoned house in the village of Roșietici, 122 kilometers north of Chișinău. He showed his find to his teacher, Nicolae Pojoga. Even this small number of shots was enough to convince Pojoga of their artistic and ethnographic value. A week later, Gălușcă returned to Roșietici hoping to find at least a few more shots by the unknown rural photographer. In a house whose windows and doors were missing, he found a dozen more, and when he climbed into the attic, a real treasure awaited him: a suitcase containing thousands of negatives. Thus began the project of restoring the photo archive of amateur photographer Zaharia Cușnir, who recorded the faces and everyday lives of villagers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Cușnir was the youngest of the sixteen children of Iacov and Anna Cuşnir, who lived in the village of Climăuți (now known as Roșietici Nou) on the Răut River. Zaharia went to the village school in Rogojeni before graduating from a pedagogical lyceum in Iași. He worked for a short time as a geography teacher before the war. We know that he spent time in prison after the war, and later he went from being an individual farmer to working on a collective farm. His work record book contains such entries as “plastered,” “hauled clay,” “laid concrete,” and “carried stones,” but there is no mention of his being employed as a photographer. Photography was Cuşnir’s hobby and labor of love.
Cuşnir began taking pictures around 1955. His wife Daria and four children reproached him for photographing everyone, including beggars, who they though should not be in the frame since they could not serve as an example to others. Until 1970, he shot scenes of village life, leaving us nearly 4,000 medium-sized (6 x 6 cm) photographic negatives. Since they were found three and half years ago, the negatives have been thoroughly restored and archived, as well as painstakingly scanned under the direction of the well-known documentary photographer Ramin Mazur. There have been several shows of Cuşnir’s work in Moldova, Romania, and Germany, and Cartier Editions published a book containing 204 photographs by Cuşnir in 2017.
Since Cuşnir died in 1993, his house has been abandoned. His daughter lives next door in the same village, and all the negatives were obtained with her permission. Work on the negatives was supported by a project grant from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Fellowship.
High-resolution scans of Cuşnir’s photographs can be found at zaharia.md.
Thanks to Alexander Markov for the heads-up. Images courtesy of Locals. Translated by the Russian Reader