Nostalgia for the future: documenting Bucharest's crumbling modernist heritage

“I’ve always had an obsession with straight lines and perspectives,” says Romanian photographer Bogdan Anghel on his passion for modernism.

“Bucharest is a very interesting mix of different architectural styles including neo-Classical, Byzantine, neo-Romanian, and neo-Gothic. In the middle of it all sits modernism, which for me, offers simplicity and harmony,” says the Bucharest-based photographer. As such, he has devoted much of his artistic practice to capturing the city’s modernist masterpieces in a photo series titled Modernist Bucharest.

“For me, there is a clear connection between the age of these buildings and the format in which one presents them.”

From pastel pink, geometric building blocks to spiraling, concrete staircases, the images in Modernist Bucharest display a wide variety of structures, many of which are overgrown with rambling vegetation. Shot on 35mm film, the series is imbued with a romantic sense of nostalgia, which, according to Anghel, was a conscious decision. “There is a clear connection between the age of these buildings and the format in which one presents them. Nowadays, digital photography has become so technologically advanced and it’s too sleek for my taste. For me, film photography offers a more sincere image.”

Anghel’s dedication to documenting the city’s architectural gems is not just a passion project. It’s also born out of fear and necessity. “Due to a mixture of corruption, indifference, and shady business interests, the Romanian authorities have done little to no work to conserve the country’s modernist architecture,” he says, sadly. “I, therefore, like to think of my photography as a wake-up call to the state of degradation these buildings are in.” He’s also concerned about the effect natural disasters may have on Bucharest’s architectural landscape. “I’m afraid that if we have another earthquake, like the one that hit the city in 1977, it will destroy most of these buildings.”

“I like to think of my photography as a wake-up call to the state of degradation these buildings are in.”

Despite disinterest in preservation from the government, Anghel is convinced that modernist buildings remain of interest to the general public. For this reason, he wants to continue his focus on documentation and is planning an upcoming photo series focusing on Bucharest’s modernist staircases. “When you talk about something that is over 100-years-old, you could argue that people are mainly interested in it for its historical value and legacy. But with modernism, I believe the interest is so high because of how futuristic the style is,” he says. “People identify even more with modernism today than they did when it first came to prominence. Maybe we are only just starting to really understand it.”

Bogdhan Anghel is a Romanian photographer and Art Director currently based in Bucharest. His photo series ‘Modernist Bucharest’ is the result of his commitment to documenting his city’s unique architectural landscape in the face of minimal conservation and impending earthquakes. If you fancy reading more Friends of Friends stories on Modernist architecture, why not take a look at our interview with Macedonian DJ Aleksandar Grozdanovski, who took us on tour of Skopje’s famed Brutalist buildings. Alternatively, if you’d like to explore some more of our photo essays, check out South African photographer Jess Sara Wright’s images from her trip to Morrocco.

Text: Emily May
Photography: Bogdan Anghel