Sorin Onisor: the Romanian Village Photographer

by Editor Sebastian Vasiu

Sorin Onisor represents a benchmark for his photography and photojournalism. His particular approach influenced a lot of contemporary photographers in Romania. His dramatic landscapes or poetic portraits bring a renewing breeze, a new style to Romanian photography. For me, personally he represents even more: I admire his life style, he is a model human being with a warm personality, loved by everybody surrounding him.

Sorin Onisor teaches us about light, colours, emotions and soul through images just like Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci did with their painting techniques.




Why are you called "the Romanian Village photographer " and who was the first person to call you that?
I have always been connected to the Romanian village. First, because I was born there, in the small village of Ghilad, from the Banat region, close to Timisoara. There, I have known freedom, I spent my childhood, which left me with poignant memories like wandering barefoot in the puddles or forests, until sunset or memories of our soul’s vibration during winter holidays. From 8th grade onwards, I studied in Timisoara, but I came back as a teacher in another village from the same region. That is when I was swept away by the passion for photography. I could have chosen other branches of this art, but my calling has always been the world of the Romanian village and that influenced all the stages of my life.

One says you have a gift, that when you wander, looking for subjects, interesting people, situations or weather conditions come your way. What can you tell us about this inspiration?
I was born with this “gift”, so it is very hard to explain it, but if I were to describe it, it is like non-conformism bypassing all things normal and also a touch of luck. This inspiration was fueled over time by my other interests like film, art and history. “The gift” is sustained also by hard work. Even though, there is this natural tendency of mine to find interesting situations and people, you can’t rely solely on that. You need patience and exercise. You have to be willing to look and sometimes wait for the right light or subject.


Pan's Labyrinth”


The Cave Man”


Why photography and not geography, history or something else? What are the rewards of doing photography?
In my case, the satisfaction I get from doing photojournalism in the Romanian village is that I get to document the authentic Romanian village in its purest form, but close to the end of its existence. Then, there is the satisfaction of a fabulous sunrise that I get to share virtually with thousands of people, some far away from home or with those who live in cities. Another satisfaction is that, besides being a photographer, I also get to teach people photography during my workshops. My life has become one with photography.

What is the closest place to your soul in Transylvania or Romania, photographically speaking?
I no longer have a favourite place, because all the places I have gone to, remain in my heart through the beautiful stories I have found there. Banat, the region of my childhood has always been in my soul, because that is where I fell in love with the authentic village. The Maramures, the first place I went to as a photographer, after which I called my children, Mara, my little girl and Mures, my baby boy. On top of that, there are Southern Transylvania, Bucovina, Danube Delta. Photographically speaking, Transylvania is indeed a fairyland, mostly Biertan, that I consider the most photogenic village in Romania.

Who is the person you photographed that you are most attached to and why?
Over time, I got attached to a lot of my subjects. The first that comes to my mind Artiom, from the Danube Delta. This old man can be considered a symbol, serving as a desirable model, who led a pure life, without vices. I got close to him over time, I met his family, I took him to his brother’s tomb, in Tulcea and every time I come to the delta, I visit him.

There are many more people I could mention, starting with the blacksmith, to whom I dedicated my PhD thesis, Nicu Hunuzău from Chirpăr, then Miklos Bacsi, my favourite worker from a charcoal kiln, craftsmen like Dumitru Ifrim, the potters’ king or Matei, wicker weaver.


Artiom, the Patriarch of the Delta”


Miklos bacsi”

Who was your mentor? For example, you were mine and that of many others.
I had no mentor, I started on this road alone, in a time where I wasn’t finding myself. However, I discovered a great passion when a friend put a camera in my hands and later on I discovered an occupation that fits me like a glove. Consequently, I started discovering the great masters of photojournalism like Salgado, Nachtwey or McCurry, in whose art I discovered a lot characteristics of my own.
I studied photography in art school, but I followed this path because of my need for freedom, of being close to the village, of spending time with authentic peasants.


“A moment in Time”


A Portrait of a Fisherman”


Do you have a model for your style? Today, in Romania and in the world, they are talking about “Onisor style”. How would you describe it and how aware or organically has it developed?
My style was built during the year of taking daily pictures in the Romanian villages. My archive kept growing, my style got its own characteristics like: documenting the Romanian village, contre-jour light, interiors with natural light, action frames, especially of the craftsmen, the attention to composition and background. Simultaneously, I took advantage of the fact that I was in hilly or mountainous areas and I started capturing amazing sunrises, developing my landscape photography portfolio.


“A winter tale”


The Empire of the Sun”


If you were to teach photography, which would be the most important prescript for your students?
First of all, there couldn’t be just one, but the most important things are passion, work and love for people. If you aren’t passionate or tenacious enough, if you don’t love people and interacting with them, then you can’t do photography, you will stay in your ivory tower.




Which is the most important prize you were given during your career, crowned with many laurels and projects?
The most important prize was the one of the “Photographer of the Year 2010”, offered by AAFR (Art Photographers Association of Romania).

What role does technology and Internet play in the contemporary photography, from your point of view? Does it help or damages the artistic act?
From the multitude of settings of the camera, to the processing of the raw file and marketing, technology is important in many branches of photography. Even in my work, because I could be on the top of a hill, from where I can share with others the sunrise or I can call people at workshops. Sometimes, you can send your photos very fast, to where those are needed. So, used wisely, technology can have a positive impact on the artistic act.

How can you make money out of photography?
One can make money from that, because the image is extremely important in our time. Everywhere, there is need for visuals, from wedding photography to fashion or sports. Images gained ground ahead of other senses, so one can exploit it in many directions, selling digital or printed photos, doing workshops or projects. You can transform photography into a job, especially if you follow the prescript mentioned above: passion, work and love of people.

Sorin Onișor has taught photography for more than 6 years. He is followed by more than 60 thousand users on his Facebook account. He is the most well known Romanian photographer in his country. His photographs inspire many young people and his images of Romanian landscapes or countryside life are highly appreciated by millions of Romanians from diaspora.


"The Charcoal Master"


The Potter Man”


The Readers”


hell's mercenaries”


Stories of Old”


The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”


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