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Cosmin Bumbuţ, Alex. Leo Şerban: Dimineţi (English version)

Translated by: Ana Gavrea

ISBN: 973-8475-62-7
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My favourites
Alex. Leo Şerban
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From a series of photos, we're all bound to choose our favourites, placing them in some order on our own personal hierarchy. It is precisely what I've done with these images signed 'Bumbuţ': I've made up a suite - narrative or musical - thereby isolating 'the composition rule'...

Therefore, nine photos, which, if I were to comment upon, I would write the following (I leave you with the book, prompting you to guess what the nine photos are. Take it all as a game, by means of which we all become accomplices to Bumbuţ's art):

1. It is impossible to repress the temptation of dipping your hands in this granary of water... What lures you, before anything else, is this tactile proximity - of colours that mean to be liquid but aren't entirely so: it's also about silky fringes, fur and smoke... Bordering on the abstract, it is nevertheless a very concrete image. It's just that this particular concrete seems to be profoundly ambiguous: tangible, yet, unreal; heavy, though noncreated; vertical-rectangular, yet borderless, no beginning... no end. It's like a genesis frame which hints at those cosmic captions of a planet in its germinative sleep: we know someone was there, to give this fantastic testimony of natural splendour - and yet, yet, we cannot decide to suppress all mistrust and to take it for what it is: the epitome of chaos-about-to-turn-into-SOMETHING...

2. This time, the identification is not only possible, but quite recommendable: the corner of a cottage, of which we see a bit of roof and a patch of grass. We notice the same tactile impression, almost violent in intensity, however this time, the emphasis is on the colour granulation as well as on the geometric play upon the wall raptured in two by the diagonal of light. The photographer finds abstraction where it is least likely to find it: in 'life in the countryside'! The methodology is in no way new - rigorously, these compact squares of colour may well be found in the "Postcard" clichés of the touristic Greece - but the difference lies essentially in the following: we are not so much in the rustic, we're in no way in the presence of a touristic, but in a constitutive modernity, severely analytical, which we carry along, whether we want to or not, wherever we may be... Bumbuţ, whose roots are there, proves to be, however, a fundamentally urban photographer, with a speculative, anti-synthetic rhetoric; what is of interest to him - and to learn that it's enough to just register the evidence: that punctum-like diagonal - is not the 'retrieval of the rustic' (which is a synthetic endeavour), but rather its recycling (an analytic process). What he does here seems like an unconscious assembly of two profoundly distinct pictorial styles (though both of them are quite modern) within the transparent space of a photo: one is that of Andrew Wyeth, the other, of Mark Rothko. The disposition of colour folds and their manifest aggressiveness, tribute to Rothko; the granulation and the hyper-realism of detail - are Wyeth's.
It is the very type of 'concrete art', where the artistic gesture is reduced to pure instrumentality: frame the existing! Rothko & Wyeth are walking, unknown, on our country roads...

3. One of the most enigmatic images: this fragment of wall, on which we see the projection of - what?... Apparently, it is the lighted shadow of a window... But is it indeed a concrete window, or merely the idea of one?... Just a thought, a memory... The texture is porous, but soft, like a blotting paper. It is perhaps an aquarelle, a drawing about to receive shape... The colour, stubbornly the same, sends to Altamira, Lescaux... A sketch on the wall in mid modernity! The L shaped tube (the L is reversed), adds to the framing of the strange symmetrical shadow... The cross that the light stain in the middle embodies appears to be the beginning of a painting... The frame is perfect, and the mystery, opaque. We are before a visual riddle that transcends the ludic through the intensity of the enigma... We no longer wonder "What is it?" or "How was it possible?", we agree to watch - without understanding - the world's one moment of beauty...

4. Palm tree shadows on calcane (Italian? Roman? Provençal, most likely) is a passage obligé; of photography; I myself have on a wall, to the right of my laptop, a black-and-white image of such a wall (definitely Roman this time), made by a local photographer, Pietro Mari is his name; I also have two coloured frames of palm shadows on some houses, photos that I myself took while in Italy, at Montecatini... Bumbuţ's photo is, of course, the best from the three - that orange, that vermillion... - but more interesting than questioning some piece of evidence seems to me a different question: why the almost obsessive recurrence to this formality?
Is it because it's somehow a (detectable) detail of atmosphere? Is it only that?
Maybe not! 'The shadow of a palm tree on a house' is more than a 'clin d'œil' of photography - just like 'the abyss staging' in painting; it is a comment of the photo on itself, sending to some sort of imaginary saturation from which the photo - as any other visual genre - cannot subtract itself entirely... A recoil - a ludic one, of course, yet a problematic one as well - of the 'playing with light' limits. An acceptance of humility: I take a photo, therefore I reproduce.
The history of photography as ready-made infinite.

5. The opening of a kettle, bottom left of the plan; on the angling wall, the shadow of the object - zoomed in and slightly distorted...
This simple sentence should exhaust any comment, still... it doesn't - not yet... Because the fascination here comes from the apparently involuntary way in which this omniconquering shadow defragments the image itself - torsions it, tortures it! It is almost the photographic correlative of a Braque or a Picasso: a real, uncovered cubism, entirely not built. 'The bulk' of the object is there, in the back plan, magnified and, as I said, 'tortured' by light; yes, but the light is not the image, but merely the cause of its existence; the effect (that monstrous shadow) is the image, along with the somewhat bizarre mise en scène (and definitely eccentric!)... Here, Bumbuţ dangerously plays with the photographic paradox, at the same time giving us back a minimalist poetics and a small piece of moral which strongly denies it.

6. It is the kind of 'perfect landscape' - lyrical and somewhat phantasmatic - in which reality exists only to be turned into a subject. A corner of a valley, with majestic mountains in the background, with the church steeple and tree tops piercing the rarefied air and with smoke calmly coming out of the chimneys...
In this slightly manneristic frame, what causes uneasiness - if you look closely - are those tree figures in the right bottom corner of the frame. Not the massive mountains, not the steeple resembling a black ink pen, not the milky fog which seems to announce a final die-out or just the beginning of a day's light - but those few tall trees, distant, unyielding. Why are they there? And why their mere presence - seemingly banal - in the front plan of the image, throws the entire frame into profound, perfect ambiguity?...
The answer is clear: because of the ghosts of a pictorial practice dating as far back as the beginning of the Renaissance! We see it in Giotto, Gozzolli, Fra Angelico and Massaccio. These are graphic specters which inevitably bring along an entire Christian mythology - sleepy stories of Christs, Virgin Maries and processions of the three kings... And also inevitable, this corner of a country captured by Bumbuţ, is transfigured into a 'Christmas Story': an early Christmas, in the evening-dawn, in a coal and wooden land...

7. Fog lays artistically over the hill, taking a few trees as its prisoners; those at front witness the scene, helplessly... The personification is unavoidable: it is not the skillfulness of the photographer that impresses us, not the grey and white shades not the 'millimetric' frame and certainly not the well distributed 'quantities' of Full and Empty in the composition - it is this naive 'story', a little instructive, of surrounding a body of trees with Merciless Fog...! We are, in turn, prisoners of a primary na(rrat)ive, to which our eye - however sophisticated - cannot but bring its toll, mechanically...

8. Compared to the first image, that of a Beginning-of-a-World Sea, infinite, calm, yet germinative, this sea only takes up 20% of the photo surface. Still, this is so much The Sea - immediately recognizable - that we should perhaps wonder: Why? Let's face it: it is not at all tangible (as the first image is). Retractable rather than tangible, it merely features, in the corner of a paper, the waves' withdrawal. Here, the sea is no longer essence, is not the elementary force it used to be, but more of an iconic sign of its daily existence. It's no longer ontology, but phenomenology. It's not 'Thalassa, Thalassa', but 'We're at the seaside'...
And it's precisely this iconic facility that makes us look upon it, for minutes, with no fear. We don't risk to find ourselves invaded by it or to cover us at night time, once our eyes are closed. The sea is contained - not only by its eccentric disposal, but also by our decoding mechanisms, which tell us, and justly so, that it is only an image. A cultural image - almost folkloric - of the sea (any sea!). A marine landscape, in fact.
Its false feverishness ('waves breaking on the shore') is but a proof of its generic docility. We experience no fear whatsoever: the sea is too small.

9. 'The Bumbuţ System' in its essence: an elegant chair, a wall, a shadow... Here, in this image of absolute, jubilating minimalism lies the unquestionable talent of the photographer. The chair is rotated exactly as much as it needs to be, the wall is pleated in exactly the right angle, the shadow unravels the wall exactly on the right diagonal. The weight of the image (the chair) must be on the right, the punctum (the shadow) must be on the left. The solid but discrete curve of the back continues with the fine, voluptuous curves of the light folds.
It's a small (huge, actually) fable on the excellency of the photographic genre. Everything is absolutely perfect. I would just like to add that it is a simple exercise: reversed (that is, in the mirror), the image is impossible: it denies its own foundation and produces a visual discrepancy, a catastrophe, a flaw... Try seeing it that way: you will see that it cannot be seen!
It is - in negative projection - the very death of the above fable...

That's it.

Eventually, comments on photographs cannot avoid two fatalities: redundancy and pedantry... To the former we can oppose a strategy of opaqueness - evicting the image-text transparency and proposing instead a centrifugal density in which the immediate suggestions (what you see = what you feel) are responded with hypothesis (what you see = what would happen if) or by postponing (what you see = what you might see if). To the latter we cannot oppose its opposed, that is, ingenuity, because naturally, that would reinstall the transparency I was talking about; the only possible thing to do is the 'forgetfulness strategy' - that is, to regard photos as spontaneous miracles, with no genealogy, no references and no correspondences with the photographic practice now and forever...
It is the bet of every good photo to dispense of a comment and, on the other hand, the force of the same photo when the comment cannot entirely contain it.

In the case of Cosmin Bumbuţ, the two co-exist.
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