People say photographs can bring a thousand memories to life, well that is true. Sometimes we forget about how our lives were when we were young, we forget the house where we grew up, and in a flash when you see a photograph you recollect every moment you lived there.
Knowing that a film student named Victor Galusca got his hands on some old and forgotten photographs. He decided to return them to people who were in the pictures. So, he travels to a small town named Rosietici in Moldova. He found six people and talked to them about their lives, memories, and experience. Victor expressed that everyone was very happy to receive their photographs. The pictures were captured by the only photographer in the village named Zaharia Cușnir.
Zaharia Cușnir (middle)
Zaharia spent his life in Roșietici, Moldova, and captured the lives of other people in the village. He was born in 1912 and died in 1993.
“She knew about the photo because her relatives had seen it online, but when I gave her a print as a kind of Christmas present, she was very happy. She was looking for a place in the house to hang it.
I know she worked in a kindergarten and looked after children. Unfortunately, we couldn’t communicate much because her hearing is gone. We just smiled and shared a cup of tea after I gave her the print.”
“She is a distant relative of Zaharia Cușnir and lived in the same village. Although she remembers the photographer as an ‘intelligent, very interesting person,’ she mainly spent time with his daughters, so knew Zaharia only as an authority figure in the house of her friends.
She fell in love with an accountant from a collective farm who was coming and going from the village on Soviet military service. But eventually, he chose another woman and Tamara lost touch with him. It’s a romance that is not forgotten. She had a photograph of him in her private collection that she let me see. After I met with her, I found the accountant living in another village. His name is Vasile Tokarchuk.”
“He was sure he would marry Tamara. He remembered how beautiful she was. They used to spend evenings down by the river talking into the night. Even Tamara’s father wanted her to marry him. But one day they had an argument, and he decided she wasn’t for him.
But he never forgot Tamara. I saw some photos that Tokarchuk had kept from his youth. One print I recognized and noticed that he had cut her out of the frame.
Now his wife has died, and Tamara’s husband has, as well, so they are free. I want to offer to reunite them, perhaps in the village where their romance began.”
“He is one of around 300 people still living in the village of Roșietici, but he and his son are thinking of relocating to Germany or somewhere else to work. His son owns 200 sheep, but it’s getting too hard to manage them. He claims the shepherds they have hired are alcoholics and the work is getting too hard for Sarmaniuc to do himself.
Sarmaniuc and his wife were amazed when they saw the photo. You can see in the portrait the toe of his shoe is split. His wife was teasing him, saying, ‘What is with your shoes? If I had known you went around with broken shoes, I never would have married you!’”
“When I showed him the images, he started to cry. He worked all his life as a postman. Now he’s very weak and can only lie in bed.
He first got to know the photographer after Cușnir loaned Cebotari his bicycle – a rare and precious object in Soviet Moldova – and the youngster returned it in perfect condition with a bottle of wine as a gift. That first interaction created the trust that became a close friendship, and he later became a part of Cușnir’s family.
Cebotari was in the same class as one of Cușnir’s three daughters and fell in love with her during their school days. The two were married with Cușnir’s blessing and lived happily. But Ioana died in 2019 and, since then, Cebotari’s health has deteriorated.
He told me from his bed, ‘This isn’t life.’ He’s only waiting to die.”
“Cușnir only photographed her twice, so she didn’t remember him well, but she recalled exactly why the photo was taken.
She had made the dress herself. Once she had finished sewing it, she went looking for Cușnir so he could take her photo in her new clothes. He was the only photographer for many kilometers around, so she had to seek him out.
She didn’t say anything about having a hard life. I gathered she just lived the simple existence of rural Moldovan people.”
Here is more information about how Victor found the photographs and some history about the village
“I discovered this unique treasure accidentally. Being a student of a film school, I was shooting a documentary in a 90% abandoned village in Moldova. It was like a cemetery with many uninhabited houses.”
He found the negatives of the photos in the abandoned house of Zaharia Cușnir
“I was entering them to see what villagers left behind while leaving this place. There were mostly clothes, articles of manufactures like carpets or embroidered towels, and many photo prints on the walls.”
The walls and floors were covered in them and Victor decided to find someone who knew who they belonged to
“In one of these houses, Zaharia’s photo negatives surprised me the most. There were thousands of them scattered everywhere!”
“I remember the feeling while collecting them in a cardboard box. But I’m not a poet and I don’t know how to describe these feelings. All I can say is that for many years, I have had a nightdream of me collecting a treasure from trash, and from the day I did it, the dream never came to me anymore.”
He found Zaharia Cușnir’s daughter and she was very happy to see the photos and gave Victor permission to use them
“After the discovery, I found that Zaharia’s daughter still lived in the area. She gave me permission to scan and use the photographs. Together with my photography teacher who was cleaning and indexing the negatives, I visited Zaharia’s daughter and her husband very often to speak about Zaharia and his passion as a photographer. Then we found some negatives of their young days. We printed the photo and gave them as a present. That was the beginning of the project.”
Then Victor decided to start the project and find the people in the photos
“The photographs were so beautiful we decided everyone deserved to see them. After uploading them on our website and on our Facebook, many people recognized their relatives or neighbors. They commented on every photo that they knew who’s in there. That’s how we found more information about who’s still in life. Meanwhile, I started to produce a documentary about Zaharia, and who can tell us more about him if not people who were photographed by him? I made a list of contacts and together with my team, we have visited 6 people so far.”
He captured photographs of the now-abandoned village of Roșietici
Victor told us more about the people he found and photographed: “Vera has a great memory, she remembers almost everybody from the photos. Vasile is a poet, he wrote some wonderful lyrics for songs. Tamara is still romantic. Axenia is like a child, always smiles at you. Aurel didn’t change at all. I love all of them.
But I spent the most time with Zaharia’s daughter and her husband. They hosted us like grandparents every time we wanted to spend some time in the village. Unfortunately, she died in 2019. Now only her husband is alive, Serghei. But he cannot walk. So I visit him often and I like to hear his stories about Zaharia. About the time when the village was full of inhabitants. About him being a postman walking all day with a heavy bag full of envelopes and newspapers. Usually, he starts to cry here. He’s waiting for death. And it will be not only his death, but the death of the village also. Nobody wants to move where only 10 people still live and all of them are old.”
This is Zaharia’s house where Victor discovered the negatives
Victor tells us more about himself and his journey: “When I was a student, I planned to leave Moldova after finishing my studies. I was thinking about going somewhere to live as many of my relatives and colleagues did. But then I found Zaharia. And the project is so big, there’s a lot of work to do and I decided to stay. Many doors opened to me here. Many ideas on how to continue living here.
Together with my team, Ramin Mazur, Nadejda Cervinskaya, and Nicolae Pojoga, we organized photo exhibitions in Moldova, Romania, and Poland. We also printed a photo album called ‘Lumea Lui Zaharia.’ But this is only the beginning. In summer 2021, I will organize a photo exhibition through all the abandoned villages. I will find the places where Zaharia photographed and I will put a print there to be in contrast to what is there today. 50 years, the same place. At this exhibition, I’d like to organize a meeting between Vasile Tokarchuk and Tamara. I found that back in the young days, they were lovers. Then something happened and they didn’t marry. But they still remember each other. I never asked what they think about my idea. And I don’t think I will ask. I want it to be a surprise for both of them.”
Victor is thinking of restoring Zaharia’s house and making a studio there. He hopes that the village will come back to life one day
“I would like to restore Zaharia’s house. To make an artistic lab there. I’d like to restore some abandoned houses in the village also. To have visitors who want to spend some time in quiet in nature. I would be very happy for this to happen. So the village will not be totally destroyed. And if a village can be revived, our country, Moldova, also could be transformed into a better place.
Now all my family is living abroad. They do not intend to return to live here. That’s because of the corruption and the instability here. But I still believe that there is a way to make our place better. And one way to do that is by studying the past. I’m grateful to Zaharia for the possibility. To go further with all these crazy ideas, we created a Patreon page. If people find it in themselves, they can support us. Also, I would like to invite everybody to come to visit us. I’ll be happy to show you the place. ”
This is Victor Galusca. We hope he will have great success in finding more people from the photos and restoring the beautiful village Roșietici
“I am a documentary filmmaker based in Chisinau. I work for Radio Free Europe Moldova. My independent project is linked to village life. Here you can watch my film I was shooting when I discovered Zaharia’s photo collection and here is a documentary about our project.”