“I don’t usually take selfies, but this was a special moment.” Felicia Simion is describing the above shot, which scooped her first prize in a Canon Romania competition. It shows Simion and her husband reflected in the mirror of a train carriage while traveling from Bucharest to Vienna during the summer of 2017. The pair were en route to the Deauville Photography Festival where Simion had been awarded a €5,000 residency as one of five finalists in the festival’s Jeune Talent Awards. Rather than fly, they had decided to prolong their travel to France. “It was about wasting time – although it wasn’t wasted at all, it was time gained. I wanted to experience the slowness of a journey.”
The 23-year-old Romanian photographer went on to win the Jeune Talent Award, but she arrived in Deauville with no idea what she would produce during her residency. Up until then, Simion’s work explored her immediate environment. “I hadn't travelled much. Instead, I focused on what was around the corner: my family, hometown, village and own country.” The Playground, for instance, follows the photographer’s young cousin, Felix, while Eggs, Pots and Oranges centres on the daily goings on at her grandmother’s house. Though they portray familiar subjects, the images brim with wonder. “When I started taking pictures, I started looking at people differently,” she says. “It fascinated me because with a camera everything can look interesting. It’s like a change of perspective.”
But on arriving in Deauville, Simion had a change of direction. “I thought I wanted to do street photography or documentary photography, but it turned out to be something else,” she says. For her series, Not From Here, which evokes the sense of being a stranger in a new place, she posed at spots around the town wearing full body suits. “On the first evening, I fell in love with the beach and the architecture surrounding it and I had this thought that I would do something surrealist – René Magritte-inspired photography.”
Dressed in the suit with the head down and partially covered by an overall, Simion would wander around Deauville until she found an interesting setting. Initially, the idea had been for her husband to wear the costume but when it arrived it turned out to be too small. Instead, he would model in a location while Simion framed the shot and set the exposure, before quickly switching places with her and hitting the shutter. “He had to really get inside my mind and figure out what I wanted from the pictures,” she remembers. “There were many different attempts before finding the perfect shot.”
Most of the pictures were taken in the early morning or evening, when the light takes on a magical quality. Even then, when the costume was fully zipped up, the heat was intense and Simion could hardly breath, and barely see. Sometimes people would stop her in the street to have their photograph taken with her. “It was a strange experience,” she says. “I had to overcome my fear of feeling exposed – even though people couldn’t see my face, I felt very visible.”
I had to overcome my fear of feeling exposed – even though people couldn’t see my face, I felt very visible.
Each backdrop had its own allure but one that really resonated was an abandoned orphanage. Out in the overgrown garden, surrounded by wild rose bushes, they found a square table with a monochrome pattern identical to one of the suits Simion was wearing. This odd coincidence compounded the eery feeling of the desolate space. “It was a brilliant location but I only took two pictures there because it was quite an overwhelming atmosphere,” she says. “Inside it felt cold and shivery and out in the courtyard there were 100 seagulls wailing. It was really spooky.”
Simion started taking pictures aged 13. She decided that she wanted to be a photographer after coming across the work of Magnum legends, along with emerging image-makers. “Before that, I had multiple passions – writing, painting, singing,” she says. “I still love them but photography struck me. My mind was made up.” "Supportive of her ambitions, her parents bought her Canon EOS 400D camera, which she used until, aged 16, she won a Canon EOS 7D in a Michael the Maven competition. This year, she switched to a Canon EOS 7D Mark II."
The prize for winning the Canon Romania contest was the opportunity to travel abroad. After completing her Master’s in Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology and Folklore at the University of Bucharest, Simion plans to go on a trip to Latin America, either Peru or Bolivia, where she would like to continue the work she began in Not From Here, hopefully on the Salar de Uyuni salt flats – a location she’s dreamt about since she started out as a photographer. Where this experimental creative journey will lead is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that Simion has caught the travel bug. “I’m bringing my identity to somewhere new and trying to see what comes out of that.”
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