Sebastiaen: Photographer of the week

Romania has many talented photographers; 1x photographer Sebastiaen is one of them. His photos are mainly documentary work and they reflect the history and daily life in his country. He was awarded in many photo contests and International Photographic Salons. He also had several successful exhibitions in his country. Let's have a glimpse at his work and his personality. Thanks to Yvette Depaepe for conducting the interview.


Tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs. How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
I was born 39 years ago in a lovely small town called Orăștie, (German name: Broos), in Transylvania. Orăștie has always been considered as a regional cultural centre. One of the oldest human settlements in Romania, from the times of Dacians and Romans, close to Sarmizegetusa is Fundătura Ponorului, a place where it was love at first sight for me because it seemed time had just stopped and life was so simple over there. Truly, this is one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe, but unfortunately not known to many of my own countrymen. Most of my favorite photographs are located in Fundătura Ponorului, called by some, the “Hand of God”.

The highlands of Orăștie, neighborhoods probably influenced me and pushed me even more towards landscape and documentary photography about villages and the lives of those that live there. Following my heart and talent for sketching (yes, I was drawing too since my childhood), I decided to attend the Architecture Faculty of Timișoara. I love natural living that involves not only a natural/bio but natural homes and a “natural” approach in life, as well. I am an assiduous seeker of traditional old homesteads and
traditional way of living.
 
 
 
 
In the meantime I joined several organizations and associations involved in architecture
and natural houses. I am also a member of several photographic associations. You can
find them all on my 1x portfolio. I have resided in Bucharest for the last 10 years holding a top-level
management position in a multinational company in the real estate sector. Probably one of my duties as
constructions manager as well - site survey - was another influence in respect of capturing reality as it is, details from it. I took tens of thousands of photographs (building mistakes or technical details) during my site inspections in the last 15 years. This came somehow natural after testing my “cameraman” skills in my university studies period.
 
One of my other hobbies would be playing guitar. In high school and faculty I played in a
rock band called Carpe Diem. I am also a movie fan and history books reader. But these preoccupations depend very much on how much time is left by photography. For the last 3 years, I have pursued this "passion" of photography, whenever I had time, usually during weekends and holidays.
 
I attended several photography workshops, photo tours, photography courses. I was selected for some of the main photography festivals in my country, I exposed my photographs in several exhibitions and I was accepted and awarded in major international photography salons (ex. FIAP, PSA, etc) in the last 2 years.
I have traveled all over the country of Romania in order to capture the perfect photograph so that others may admire the beauty of the country I call "home".
 
What first attracted you to photography?
My first contact with a photo camera was in fact some years ago, in the mid 1980's. At that time my father used a Russian photo camera named Smena (Сɦеɧа). I was fascinated with the “camera obscura” , (as many children probably were), and my father’s sepia photographs with friends and family.
 
But, getting to the point, my attraction to photography is somehow secondary; it came as an attachment to my passion for travel, to enjoy being in nature. At first I used photography as a tool, a vehicle to get to the photographic memory, to be able to archive my best moments, to share them with the others. Now I am doing it most of the times premeditative, in advance organized in order to be able to reach the result I imagine beforehand.
 
 
 
 
 
Which are your most important experiences that have influenced your art?
I have been drawing ever since I can remember. It was a gift for me from heaven and an inheritance from my mother. My mom used to paint when I was young. She was “in charge of” everything that had to do with visual arts in my family: painting, drawings, even fashion design and domestic clothes production.
My father, on the other hand, transmitted to me a special mood and a tendency to lean towards the artistic side. He is a poet, writer and journalist. Our home was always full of guests from different sectors of artistic life: poets, writers, actors, movie directors or reporters. My childhood represented to me a first number of
“workshops” about arts. The discussions about lyrics and drawings that were used to illustrate the content inside my father’s books kept me captivated until deep into the night.
 
All of these events occurring at a very young age created a prolific environment and context for my future artistic expression. Of course, at the faculty of architecture, I studied arts, plastic arts, and architecture. All
these and the studies of form, composition, light, and proportions, in a natural way influenced my work for the future.
 
Describe your overall photographic vision.
Photography to me is like painting the nature and life around us. Each capture is seen through my eyes as a possible drawing or sketch of the surrounding environment. I pay attention to each moment that happens with people around me, observing systematically all nature’s seasons or periods of the day in order to catch the best or the most interesting side of my world. In this direction photography became a way of living for me as well. I have always my camera with me when I travel. It is like an additional part of my body.
 
Speaking about the visual part itself, I have to say that besides the composition rules, I try to focus on the mood, the story, the message of the view and try to work with light, to use its potential at the maximum level for that moment. As time passes, I feel I am going more and more towards simplicity, I try to arrange as perfectly as possible each element inside my “page”, simplifying the view and controlling the positions inside the photograph frame. Nowadays, there is a photographic boom. For example, in my country, there
are more and more photographers of my kind, capturing landscapes and portrait photography. I believe
that each of us needs to have his or her own approach, to find their own way of accomplishing their goals, and be honest during this process.
 
What is also very important to me is that I want always to do more and become better at my craft. This is the path to excellence, for every day to be my best version, to try to outdo myself. I am still looking to find my way in photography and I use this as an advantage to keep me motivated!
 
Why are you so drawn by documentary photography?
Initially, I thought that I was a landscape photographer only. In fact, it was not a deliberate objective, but it happened to match my appetite for travel and always to discover new places. Afterwards, I had the chance to meet a lot of people, to spend hours among villagers, poor children and people from all walks of life. In this way, those that live a very uncomplicated lifestyle with their genuine and sincere faces captured and mesmerized me forever.
 
I am equally a nature or landscape photographer. I love nature, mountains and seaside, animals and flowers, spring and autumn, sunshine or snow. I recommend each of you to wake up in the morning and admire the sunrise at least. You do not necessarily have to take photos of it. Just look, feel, and enjoy it. That energy is from the core of the universe, it is unique, pure, and primordial and it is for us too. We just
have to be aware of it and receive it. At the time of sunrise the people’s thoughts still “sleep” and are 80% in heaven, thus the energy floating in the air is full of power, purity and is not affected by everyday worries or negative- pessimistic vibrations.
 
What is more important to you, the mood/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
I have to recognize that I am a perfectionist, partially because of my profession. After some time, dealing with photography more and more, I realized that a photograph that is perfect regarding the composition and technique could be an ordinary image if it does not express anything. Thus, there are excellent photographs, thanks to the story behind the shot, even without 100% correct exposure or framing.
 
 
Everybody knows Bresson as the main example for what I wrote above. For me, he is just an inspiration, exceptional for his time. Nowadays, we owe it to him to be much better, to properly use the advanced technology that exists and to create a perfect mix between story, light, moment and technique.
 
What is generally your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
I always talk to my “subjects”. I was raised in a Transylvanian family that relied on the respect of others. So, when I meet someone on any of my photo trips, I first do a simple introduction and after that, I ask him or her questions about family, friends, worries and just life in general. In this way we establish a bond and the potential model is prepared for a photo-shoot in a natural way without any constrain or fear. The communication skills I received from my mother were very valuable. Also, my connection with rural life when I was a child and the time spent in the countryside at my grandparents, have helped me so much in my documentary photography career.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I improved my photographic skills with the help of my mentor, Sorin Oniș or, a great Romanian photographer, who was the first to make me aware of my passion for photography. He is more than a photographer, he knows history, he has excellent communication skills and “get in contact with the subject” knowledge. I will always be very grateful for his insight and perspective.
 
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
Sometimes, I think about a spot several months before, maybe even up to a year, researching it on the Internet regarding the access, critical orientation points, altitude, history, etc. But most of the time, I rely on instinct and inspiration. I love to improvise, to develop something on the spot, to be unpredictable and creative.
 
What gear do you use?
I use as little equipment as possible. Being that I am a practical individual, I believe that with all of the options on the market right now, and the enthusiasm by many to have the "newest" or "best" equipment, it's not worth the money to invest so heavily in photographic equipment that is so unjustifiably expensive. I know what I need to capture my shots and am very comfortable with my choices.
 
Back to the question, I use a Canon EOS 6D with only Canon lenses as follows: 15mm fisheye, 24-105L, 85mm, 70-300L. I sold all other lenses I have in order to optimize my bag.
 
What software do you use to process your images? Can you tell us something more about your workflow?
I use Camera Raw about 90% and to complete the rest of my processing, I use Photoshop and two plugins (Nik Collection and Topaz Labs). First, I test different levels of shadows and highlights in Camera Raw. Then I look at contrast, clarity, sharpness and color tones. At times, I use color channels individually. Most of the time, I play with digital gradual filters from CR, not only for exposure but for other settings, as well, depending on the image. Opening the image in Photoshop, I adjust the colors, contrasts and tones. I clone some areas where there are some imperfections and I then test some filters to fit my idea about that mood I “see” for that particular photograph. I decide what is more suitable between B/W or color and then take this decision according to the emotion.
 
 
What is your most important advice to a beginner in documentary photography and how do you get started?
You have to think "outside the box" from a creative standpoint! On the other hand, you must get outside...
outdoors. Nothing is possible if you stay at home. You can read a lot of books about photography, however this means nothing if you do not travel to many places and search. Get into the streets, climb the mountains and hills, go to the seaside, just go... somewhere! Take your camera everywhere.
 
 
 
 

I started like a rocket in the photographic world. I almost lost friends, I almost abandoned my family, all this because of photography, outdoor photography. But I did it like a calling, like it is my duty to do it. I had to experience it and I will never feel sorry for that. Finally I found my equilibrium and enough quality time with my family, as well. I won new friends, photographers! Now I am feeling great about everything!
 
Who are your favorite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
I appreciate a lot of photographers, from classics to contemporary ones: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andreas Feininger, David Duncan, Leonard McCombe, Eugene W Smith, Tony Ray-Jones, Don McCullin, Sebastiano Salgado, William Klein, Alex Webb, Jeff Ascough or Rob Heyman for example.
 
Regarding landscape photography, I follow Marc Adamus, Lurie Belegurschi, Bruce Percy or Marcin Sobas. In Romania, we have also some excellent photographers that I follow: Sorin Oniș or  Mihai Moiceanu, Cornel Pufan, Mirela Momanu , Julien Oncete, Lucian Olteanu, Adrian Petrișor, Razvan Vitionescu, Edward Aninaru, Richard Constantinoff, Bogdan Panait, IonuțCaraș , Andreea Retinschi, Anca Cernoschi, Daniel Ilinca, Bogdan Botofei, Ovidiu Satmari, Adrian Popan, Dorin Bofan, Cristina Venedict, Irinel Cîrlănaru, Vlad Eftenie and the list could go on.
 
I am a big fan of the classic Romanian photographer, Costică Acsinte, who took hundreds of photographs with Romanians from the southern regions, especially, during the 20th century starting with the First World War. Other Romanian“classics” I follow are: Lazar Dinu, Viorel Simionescu, Nicolae Sotir, A special thought to my faculty colleague, Arch. Tavi Topai – photographer and mountains passionate, who died up there (in Făgăraș Mountains, the highest in Romania) where he loved to be. RIP dear friend.
 
Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a big deal and why?
At the time when I was somewhat less famous, I particularity noticed one certain Photographer, Sorin Oniș or, who astonished and influenced me ever since we first met. It was all about the story, working with light, the mood, mystery, photojournalism, connection with people. It is now an everlasting friendship and passion.
 
 

Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I want to dedicate myself more to my family, so I want to optimize the time doing better quality photography and less quantity. I will probably take less landscape photographs and more portraits or documentary. I want to experience more street photography and use more black and white style. I intend to read more about photography, following the principle “theory after practice”.
 
Describe your favorite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
The photograph I love most is one of the latest from Fundătura Ponorului – the Hand of God. It is a minimalist landscape and it means a lot to me. In my opinion it represents the right place on Earth: peace, silence, simplicity, living in harmony with nature and animals, green fields, grass smell, forests, mountains, ancestors, life.
 

What do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
1x for me is the ultimate confirmation of any photographer’s work level. The feedback received here weighs a lot for a photographer thanks to the competent and professional members of the crew. It is an enormous platform and database for inspiration with the "best of the best photos" in the world.
 
I like the black layout or the background that highlights each photograph best. Also, I find the public curating system and the points received very interesting.
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 

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