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Digitizing a Disappearing Glass-Plate Archive of Romanian Life

by Allison Meier on May 9, 2014

Damaged glass plate negative (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Damaged glass plate negative (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

After serving as a Romanian war photographer from World War I through 1920, Costica Acsinte settled in Slobozia in the south of the country and set up a studio called Foto Splendid Acsinte. There he proceeded to document the surrounding community in over 5,000 images.

Acsinte died in 1984, and the glass-plate negatives were mostly forgotten and left in storage that exposed them to the elements. This documentation of Romania centered between 1935 and 1945 could have been totally lost if it weren’t for the Ialomița County Museum, which acquired all 5,000 of the plates in the 1990s. The photos have since fallen into the public domain, and photographer Cezar Popescu has been collaborating with the museum on digitizing all of the images. Now, Popescu is crowdfunding through Indiegogo to complete the project. The campaign also aims to improve the storage facilities of the delicate glass plates.

The Costică Acsinte Archive is an extensive trove of curiosities filled with scenes from everyday life, from stoic-faced children standing rigidly in awkward studio shots to somber funerals and men tending to apiaries. The archive joined Flickr Commons in December, with over 2,000 images now available online, but that’s still not even half of the photographs. And time is running out. As Popescu told Time magazine, the “degradation is quite rapid. Day after day, I notice another crack [in the emulsion].”

The wear is visible on many of the images, with emulsion ripped back, decapitating portraits or adding eerie scratches through the frame. This does give the photographs a haunting quality and an often beautiful layer of decay, but more importantly, they are an invaluable resource for history. Details on the years and people are scant, but the work of one of Romania’s most prolific early-20th-century photographers still reveals something about his country’s past, especially when it’s placed online for all to see.

Child with a cat painting (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Child with a cat painting (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Two children with awards (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Two children with awards (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Studio portrait (nd) (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Studio portrait (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Young lady posed in a studio snow scene (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Young lady posed in a studio snow scene (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Matching dresses in the studio (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Matching dresses in the studio (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

A woman with a cigarette in the studio (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

A woman with a cigarette in the studio (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Two men smoking (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Two men smoking (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

A cycling couple (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

A cycling couple (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Child with a calf (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

Child with a calf (via Costică Acsinte Archive)

A couple in the studio (via Costică Axinte Archive)

A couple in the studio (via Costică Axinte Archive)

An apiary (via Costică Axinte Archive)

An apiary (via Costică Axinte Archive)

Butchering a pig, March 15, 1943 (via Costică Axinte Archive)

Butchering a pig, March 15, 1943 (via Costică Axinte Archive)

The Costică Acsinte Archive is fundraising on Indiegogo through May 16.

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  • Cezar Popescu

    Thank you very much for your support!

  • Keith-ofer Tankink

    Amazing work my friend. I want more lol. Definitely gives off a haunting appearance.

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