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Romania’s VSLO festival combines photography training, filmmaking and concerts

The VSLO festival combines training in photography and film-making with theater, concerts and outdoor documentary screenings.
The VSLO festival combines training in photography and film-making with theater, concerts and outdoor documentary screenings. Columbia Hillen

Photography is part of Catalin Rudolf’s DNA, a close uncle whom he lived with for many years while growing up having become famous in the field throughout Romania. So it comes as no surprise that the 44-year-old earns his livelihood in the sector, with a company, 4K Broadcast Solutions, that sells special lightning equipment while also being organiser of an annual, national 10-day festival, Vama Sub Lumini de Oscar (VSLO) in the Black Sea coastal resort of Vama Veche that continues this week.

The festival, which ends Sunday, combines training in photography and film-making with theatre, concerts and outdoor documentary screenings. Music included live performances by 'Basska' offering a mix of reggae, ska, rock and rap, and 'The Sorted Session,' playing original compositions and Irish songs. Nikon and the National Cultural Fund (part of the Romanian Ministry of Culture) were the main festival sponsors.

Hosting around 300 participants, male and female ranging in age from teenagers to people in their mid-60s, and 12 lecturers, both Romanian and international, in the photographic activities alone, Rudolf is justifiably proud of his achievements. “We started five years ago with modest aims and hardly any money and are delighted the festival has become so popular in such a short time,” said the Bucharest native, who is ably assisted in the project by his wife, Andreea, and a team of seven volunteers. “It’s always a challenge to put on such diverse activities on tight budgets and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do so without such an excellent team around me. They’re great.”

Such training in film-making or photography would normally cost at least several hundred euro in other countries but Rudolf offers them free of charge. “I’ve thought about applying modest fees but haven’t decided to do so yet,” he said.

Violeta Moisa, marketing manager for Nikon in Romania, said she is delighted with the festival. "I believe a camera brand always needs to be where the action is happening and Nikon is at the best place at Vama sub Lumini de Oscar Festival, among 300 people dedicated to photography. The interaction of the photographers with our cameras is crucial for developing the right skills. This increases fidelity to our brand and a strong feeling of belonging to a powerful community. The festival also offers us the chance to gain honest and unfiltered feedback from photographers to our products. At the end of the day, we put powerful technical equipment into the hands of people to help them create visual masterpieces."

Photography classes throughout the festival are diverse, including specific subjects such as panoramas; social (raising awareness on key issues for which students visited a Romany community); street photography, to capture the essence and spontaneity of everyday life; abstract core photography; as well as action and night photography. Specialized training includes classes in photo-journalism, nudes, fashion, jewelry, weddings, coins, cars and macro photography (images of very small objects). There were also classes in how to organize one’s own photo exhibition, on copyright protection issues and on negotiating and selling one’s work.

Trainers included Olav Urdahl, photo editor for Aftenposten in Norway, on photo-journalism; Nicolae Cosniceru, from Romania, on car photography and negotiation and sales skills; Marek Czarnecki from Poland, seven-time winner of the British OSKAR prize awarded by Master Photographers Association, on panoramas; Michail Moscholios from Greece on core photography; and Cristian Crisbasan, from Romania, on nude photography.
Participants are happy about what they have learned.

“One of the aspects of the course I liked most is that various speakers showed you the high quality of photography that can be obtained but didn’t force you to do it their way,” said Steluta Popescu from Bucharest. “They emphasized artistic freedom and encouraged us to achieve similar quality in our own way, through our own individual techniques and creativity.”

Voicing her contentment, Columbia Hillen, a participant from Ireland, found the overall level of teaching to be high, saying she was particularly impressed by a session hosted by Angel Penchev from Bulgaria related to numismatics. “Photographing coins is not something I would normally have thought about but the way he used lighting and the overall result was simply amazing.”

Sorana Chiru, from Barlad, Romania, said the training helped her focus her interest better. “Since I’m quite new to photography and still looking for a genre that suits my personality, getting to hear such great professionals so passionate about their art, was extremely helpful. I learned so much from each of them.”

As for Rudolf, aside from the professional satisfaction he derives from continued success of the VSLO festival, he also considers it his modest tribute to the memory of his uncle, Aurel Mihailopol. “I’m following his philosophy here, that photography is an art, not just the push of a button.”