Now Romania is also their country. Horia Manolache discovers the stories of refugees through photography

The other’s perspective sometimes completes a story. Or compose it. And the camera can easily tell such stories. He did it in a project in which the other is the Romanian refugee. “Behind the Lens” is created by photographer Horia Manolache, together with Andriana Mereuță, Andra Samson and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to expose Romania through the lens of refugees from countries affected by crises or social discrimination.

At the same time, the project means educating the public on the refugee’s perception, which is too often based on stereotypes. The public can thus know the stories of the refugees, and they, in turn, get to know each other better.

I concluded that now it is their country and contrary to what they were told before they got here, they found that it is a beautiful and safe country. There are also stories about discrimination, about running away, about the struggle not to be defeated by everything around you, about how everyone sees this refugee status, says Horia about refugees.

Participants learned how to use a camera in a professional way and took lessons on how to create the architecture of a story. The result can now be seen in an exhibition in the Flip-Flop restaurant (Bd. Dacia 139), in Bucharest. Access is free, based on the green certificate.

We find out more about the project and the exhibition in the rows below.

Project initiative

The idea was more to give refugees the opportunity to tell their story. They are often represented, not necessarily as they would like, but according to certain stereotypes in which many do not find themselves. I have been working with UNHCR for some time and from the projects carried out so far, but also from the discussions with our students, I have found that they have a problem with the way they are refugees in general.

This image is projected in which refugees come here to live on the backs of Romanians through social benefits. The reality is different. They are supported for 6 months, after which those who remain remain with the rights that Romanian citizens have (except the right to vote), but also with the same obligations. All our students work and study in Romania.

Together with Andra Samson and Andriana Mereuță, we tried to give them as much information about storytelling and photography as possible, so that they can, from now on, contribute to the construction of this image of the Romanian refugee. That is why we organized an exhibition with their works at Flip Flop from 139 Dacia Boulevard.


The funding came from the Romanian Cultural Fund Administration, and UNHCR Romania was involved in discovering people who would be interested in this approach. UNHCR will in the next period begin to expose the project to the Romanian public through the various annual festivals in which it constantly participates.


It didn’t matter their story behind them, it was the fact that they were interested in this course. In the end, that seemed important to us. Stories, however, are behind everyone and all different, but I found out later. Most are featured in a series of interviews on project site.

The experience itself, the fact that something new to do appeared in a year full of restrictions, made them participate. Everyone has a different motivation, from what I’ve seen. Someone wants to learn photography to be helpful in the profession of dentistry, for example. Others want to get out of their comfort zone and have as many experiences as possible to get them out of a state of fear, others because they considered photography and storytelling to be tools that are good to have.


So far we have not found a sponsor on the photo equipment side, but we have managed with what the students had and with what I also brought, and I say that unexpected results came out. I had a series of online and physical meetings in which I presented photographic genres, photographers such as Jim Goldberg, Taryn Simon, Vivian Maier, information about outdoor light and how it can be used, I edited the photos at the end on a graphics tablet.

We tried to show them as much as possible, in order to capture the taste for photography as a tool to tell a story. Andriana Mereuță told them about the steps followed in several National Geographic editorials in the USA in which she participated, she told them about the part behind a project and how you get to do it, to present it.

Andra Samson had her separate workshops in which she presented what are the steps to follow when we tell a story and how we can find that story that is worth telling.

Perception of refugees

Two years ago I was participating in a festival dedicated to refugees in Timișoara and there, before the opening, someone had written something on the front door of something from this series of stereotypes caught by the word “refugee”.

After that, at the beginning of this year, I made a series of portraits with medical refugees from Romania. Most of them worked at ATI, in hospitals that treated covid patients, and it seemed to me that they should be seen not only by those they treated.

From what I understand from some of the students, the term refugee itself conveys the state that they are strangers to this place, although they have been here for 4 years, work, volunteer, speak Romanian very well. The exhibition with their works I would like to convey the calm and tranquility that they found here, and from now on, they will present themselves as they want, having more tools for it.

I concluded that now it is their country and contrary to what they were told before they got here, they found that it is a beautiful and safe country. There are also stories about discrimination, about running away, about the struggle not to be defeated by everything around you, about how everyone sees this refugee status.

Topics and themes

From the first course, a few people pointed out to me that they can’t bring the kind of photos associated with refugee life in general: poverty, misery, disease, etc. They thought I had this expectation from them, but I told them it was ok, because I have no expectation from them and no pre-set image that I want to reinforce – I just told them it could start. to photograph what is around them, the people around them, the places.

Having been in Romania for a long time, they overcame certain difficulties – even the fact that they had to learn a completely new language in order to be able to cope.

Launch of the exhibition

For now, we had the online launch event and each of us shared his impressions at the end of the course. Most importantly, I thought we had the opportunity to present the works in a professional way – I hope to launch the photos from the physical exhibition, although they are exhibited there and can be seen by those who go to the Flip Flop restaurant. There were students who were happy to get involved because they managed to get out of their comfort zone and I hope to continue from now on.

Project promotion

In general, we promoted the project online to reach people who live in cities where we know they are also refugees. As I said, next year, the exhibition will take you to cities such as Timisoara, Bucharest, Brasov, for some events in which many young people in general participate. I think that’s how things will change, educating the young.

Cultural projects dedicated to refugees

I know, for example, about the OmFest Festival that takes place in Bucharest on World Refugee Day. It is a festival that captures and reproduces very well the diversity through elements that define other cultures: music, food, art.


I would like to make some trips through Romania next year.

Source: IQads by

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