Alin Popescu is the Grand Prize winner of the 2006 Microsoft Future Pro Photography Contest. His winning photo, Slalom, was selected by professionals from over ten thousand entries as the best of the best. I was able to contact him to talk about the competition experience and his work. It was a great experience and I hope you enjoy the discussion as much as I do.
What made you realize that photography was something that you wanted to take on seriously?
First of all I want to thank you for your invitation in having this interview. I really don’t know what button was pushed to make me realize I really like this art and want to develop my skills on it. It may be the fact that I am a sensible person, attracted to visual arts, to nature and people. Maybe it was the easiest form of expressing myself, an easy way to show others what I like most about surrounding world.
Before you were introduced to photography you were originally a painter. What types of painting did you do and did this influence what you do in photography as well?
As a kid, my parents sent me to different kids learning clubs. I’ve attended dance courses, puppet shows, drum play courses, piano play courses, go-kart courses, painting courses, sculpture and many more that I even don’t remember. But, from all of these, what I really liked most and attended for many years, was the painting courses. I’ve started painting since I was 6 and done this until finishing high school. I’ve painted from water-paintings to oil, and when I have discovered the stain-glass painting this was the only thing that I was doing since, especially icons on glass with Bible thematic. As in photography, I did it with real passion and this also brought me some awarding moments, with different national and international prizes at painting contests.
To know that you’ve just won against 13500+ other submissions must be something unbelievable. Can you describe how it felt like at that moment?
Did you ever win the lottery? I think it was quite the same feeling at first, knowing that my photo competed against so many other submissions and it was selected as the grand prize winner. The initial feeling is that you’ve got lucky, but in time, seeing so many important people participating in the jury of this huge contest, understanding the immense effort done to hold a project on this scale, you understand that it not (only) luck, but you understand that your work was appreciated and that it was the one that attracted the most appreciations among the others. That feeling cannot be described, but I think it was the peak of maximum pride. It’s not about the money prize, it’s all about the feeling that your photo was the best of all. Priceless!
Regarding your winning entry photo Slalom, can you tell us where the photo was taken and what you tried to express through it?
The photo was taken in a dream land situated somewhere in the centre of Romania, in a valley between two beautiful mountains. The landscape is fantastic, it looks like Heaven on Earth (to quote some of the comments I got on photos made on that place). When I took Slalom, me and some of my fellow photographers that I like go shooting with, were on a photo tour on that region. We’ve called earlier that week at our host to ask if there is any snow (it was late march, but usually there is a lot of snow in that time of the year) and we got the answer we were waiting for: yes, there is a lot of it. When we arrived we got stunned by the landscape: pure white everywhere, very rare footsteps in the snow, a beautiful sunny day with perfect sky and light. It looked like a fairy from the tales passed over there and froze everything in time. The feeling was I was walking inside a still image. This is what I wanted to show in my photo: peace, graphic purity, virgin landscape and the name, was inspired by our path: like a slalom through all that beauties, afraid not to break anything. That fence was the symbol of the path.
What did you study at university? How did you learn photography?
I’ve studied Electronics and Tele-communications so in formation I am an engineer, but in the heart I’m a sensible person. Photography was the other “face” of me. I’ve learned it from practice, from internet forums. Later on, I enrolled in a two year photography course at university of arts.
What are your favorite and dream locations to take photos?
A lot of your landscape photos feature wonderful sunlight that only last minutes and may never to be repeated again. What does it take to be at the right place at the right time? What’s the secret to “being there”?
The secret is a recipe of patience, persistence, mistakes to learn from and passion. It is sometime like going fishing: you are not always catching the prey, but when it bites, you know for sure you got it if you are well prepared.
Part of your prize was a five year membership of professional organizations, how have they supported your photographic work?
Unfortunately it didn’t helped me that much as I wanted. The answer is simple: all of them have the American photographer in mind and all promotions, services and workshops are USA and Canada based so for me, living on the Old continent wasn’t of much help. I actually got a little frustrated not being able to take advantage of these services at their full potential. But, the good part is that we have Internet, and all the information that was distributed online, reached me also and I had a lot to learn by myself.
How has digital technologies helped you achieve your photographic vision?
I had contact with argentic film photography as a kid, because my father was a professional photographer those times. But I was too young to understand the beauty of photography, and only 10-15 years later I have discovered it with the help of digital technology. So this was my launch pad in this art.
Besides nature, what other subjects interest you and why?
I am in the process of developing my skills in studio photography now: fashion, portrait and product. I am very interested in this area because it will let me photograph whenever I want. I don’t have to be in a special place, to wait for that special light (even if I still love most that part of photography) to make a photo. With free time being a problem, I want to take advantage at maximum out of it. For nature photography, a huge amount of time is lost on traveling to location so when you don’t have that time, you go inside the studio, to do other type of work.
Tell us a memorable experience you had related to photography.
Every moment I spend photographing it’s a memorable experience. One that comes right now to me is the one when I took this photograph. I was in a summer vacation with my wife, around Romania. Returning back home from holiday, we took another route, to travel on the highest Romanian road. At the peak of it, there is a nice mountain motel situated near a volcanic lake. I wanted to photograph it and when we reach it, the weather was awful – raining, extremely cold and the sky was dark. I stopped the car, took an umbrella and my camera only to take a compositional shot of the motel near the lake, for future reference. Until I set-up my camera and found a nice place to photograph from (shaking like crazy because I was very cold), the rain stopped, the wind stopped, the sky cleared for a couple of 5-10 minutes only. The water got crystal clear, mirror like surface, and I could take that beautiful shot that I wanted. And like a cherry on the cake, the biggest rainbow I have ever saw in my life appeared on the sky (see photo). I could only snap a couple of frames and then the weather got awful again. That was a moment.
I realize that your father was a professional photographer. What influence did your parents have on your work?
Well, I have the genes from them: my father an artist himself, my mom natural science teacher . The result – a nature loving photographer 😀
What are your future career plans?
I’m currently employed in a multinational company as a software quality assurance specialist. I only do photography in my spear time, but I am taking the small steps on becoming full-time professional photographer. So, this is the plan: to soon quit the day-job and become free at last. Free to express myself whenever I feel like doing so.
When you’re not out there taking photos, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have other free time than taking photos.
What advice would you give to other student photographers who aspire to what you’ve accomplished?
Keep pursuing your dream, your passion. Never let it go if you love what you do, because later you might regret it.
Finally, what do you enjoy most about photography?
I’d like to thank Alin for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this interview. Hopefully it’ll give you some insight into the sort of work photographers do and the effort involved in creating great photographs. Be sure to check out more of his outstanding work at his online gallery.