An invitation to look: the role of vernacular photography in scrutinising and understanding Romania’s communist past in the context of everyday life

Uschi Klein

Palavras-chave: vernacular photography; communist Romania; cultural resistance; cultural memory; decolonising photography

Participação: presencial

Photographs are more than representations of society and culture or evidence of historical documents and events. As Phillip Gourevitch states, “evidence is mute; it demands investigation and interpretation” (2009: 148). Photographs, then, reveal, illuminate or suggest ideas, mindsets and attitudes, but they also disrupt expected narratives. They help reconstruct the material everyday culture of the past and of ordinary people and shape the interpretation of history (Burke 2001). With a focus on vernacular photography in the context of Romania’s communist rule (1947-1989), this paper frames the photograph as an invitation to look, explore, reveal, investigate and ask questions that reflect on what photographs “do to history” (Edwards 2022: ix, original emphasis). Using a close reading, this paper shows the complexity of interpreting vernacular photographs.

Just over thirty years after the fall of the Soviet bloc, at a time when we see the return of oppressive policy making in Eastern European countries like Hungary and Poland, research on vernacular photography during Romania’s communist era remains an under-explored subject area. Contextualised within the broader understanding of decolonising the Western photography canon, this paper examines vernacular photography as an ongoing event that is entangled in webs of power, dialogue, resistance and agency, and involves several choices and participants (Azoulay 2008). Following Tina Campt, vernacular photography provides a means of “listening to images” (2017: 9), contributing to collective memories of resistance and extending discussions of untold narratives, repressed histories and changing interpretations of the past, locating them in the present and orienting them towards the future.


Azoulay, A. (2008) The Civil Contract of Photography. New York: Zone Books.
Burke, P. (2001) Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence. London: Reaction Books.
Campt, T. (2017) Listening to Images. Durham: Duke University Press.
Edwards, E. (2022) Photographs and the Practice of History. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Gourevitch, P. and Morris, E. (2009) The Ballad of Abu Ghraib. New York: Penguin Books.


Dr Uschi Klein is an early career researcher and lecturer at University of Brighton, UK. Her research focuses on vernacular photography as a form of cultural resistance in communist Romania (1947- 1989), with an approach to using oral history conversations to explore marginalised voices and histories of the past. Uschi’s research is contextualised within a decolonial framework in order to decolonise the Western photography canon and broaden the knowledge and perspectives by including marginalised perspectives. Her recent publications include a chapter in the edited volume The Camera as Actor (Routledge 2020) and various articles in academic journals, including Visual Studies and Visual Communication.