Shadows in Bucharest


We have already written, that between the two world wars Bucharest was micul Paris, “little Paris”, the city of luxury and of an exaggerated desire for life. And as usual, light had its shadow: the rural masses who came to try luck in the city, the suburban slums, and the thriving underworld, described by Fănuş Neagu in And the angel cried. And light and shadow were fixed by the camera of the same person, Nicolae Ionescu.


Nicolae Ionescu (1903-1975) during World War I had to interrupt school and start to work as a printer in the Cultura Naţională publisher. Here his boss and fatherly friend Dimitrie Demetrian, who had studied in Germany, introduced him to modern technology, including photography. In 1927 he became a photographer of the Royal Army, and regularly photographed Bucharest and the countryside: today his photos illustrate most of the retro photo albums on old Bucharest. At that time he conceived the idea of a future Romanian Photo Museum, for which he systematically took photos every summer in a different region of the country. In 1930 he worked several months in France in the Lyon studio of the Lumière brothers and in Paris with Pathé-Nathan, whose influence can be clearly seen in his photos of Bucharest from the 1930s. In 1937 he was appointed technical director of the daily Adevarul. From this position he was removed in 1940 by the Iron Guard as “a servant of Jews and traitors”. Before that, however, he prevented the Jewish employees from setting on fire the palace of Adevarul as a protest against the Guard. For this he was officially condemned during Communism as having “obstructed the activity of illegal communists”, and he could not get a job for a decade. In 1945 he founded the publisher Enciclopedia Fotografică which was confiscated from him in 1947. Since then he lived on casual works and on the support of colleagues until 1956 when he was admitted to the Art History Research Institute as a photographer. He retired from there, handing over the materials prepared for the planned “Romanian Photo Museum” to the academic library.






The excellent Romanian blog Art Historia recently published a selection from the photos taken by Ionescu between 1925 and 1935 in the poor neighborhoods of Bucharest: around Bibescu square, along the Dâmboviţa, on the fairs and the famous Moşilor Market in the suburbs, on the flea market of the Jewish quarter, in the “Valley of Tears” neighborhood behind the Bellu cemetery. The captions were written by Ionescu himself on the back of the photos.

One of the numberless peasant families looking for luck in Bucharest (1929)

Slum on the outskirts

Each neighborhood had its “devil’s wheel”. At Easter the payment was a painted egg (1927)

Traveling shoes and slippers repairer along the Dâmboviţa (1932)

(without caption) Washing at the pipe leading ground or source water into the Dâmboviţa

A war invalid in front of the Domniţa Bălaşa church with the portrait of the royal couple and an inscription on it asking for donations


A traveling shoe-repairer

A traveling lute-player (cobzar) around Bibescu square


Lumberjacks

Organ-grinder with a parrot

Organ-grinder with white beard and a barefoot boy

Used clothes-seller on the Taica Lazăr (the flea market in the Jewish quarter, today the Baia de Fier street)

On the Taica Lazăr

Used and repaired shoes on the Taica Lazăr

Terrible mud on the Obor, the Moşilor Market

Lipovans (Russians from the Delta of the Danube) in a tea house of the Dudeşti quarter

Dumping ground in the “Valley of Tears”, behind the Bellu cemetery (on the place of the Park of the Youth established in the 1960s)

Rubbish-hunters in the Valley of Tears


Sorting empty cans in the Valley of Tears. In the background, the silhouette of a crematorium

Preparations for the wedding in Vitan (1929)

Interior of a “flat” in the Ouatu Pit (the Grant quarter)

And finally there are – still there are – the bear-leading Gypsies as well.