One Man’s Quest to Save a Haunting 5,000-Portrait Archive from the Clutches of Time


For going on two decades after the end of World War I, Costica Ascinte was quite possibly the only professional photographer in all of Romania. He continued to work right up until his death in 1984, by which point he had accumulated over 5,000 glass plate negatives and several hundred prints — a visual history of the Romanian people and a culture that, we know from previous articles, may soon be gone for good.

Unfortunately, this massive, culturally-rich archive is slowly disappearing as time and improper storage take their toll. But one man, Cezar Popescu, is determined to rescue whatever is still salvageable, and is well on his way to digitizing the entire archive even as it deteriorates before his very eyes.

According to TIME LightBox, Popescu first ran across the archive at a regional museum, where a small collection of postcards was being displayed. The museum had acquired the plates from the Ascite family where they had been stored in crates that were open to both the elements and the occasional farm animal.

Needless to say, they were in pretty bad shape, and so Popescu — whose father had worked with Costica Ascite’s son as a photographer — took an interest in the archive and convinced the museum to let him digitize the plates before they degraded any more than they already had.

Here’s a quick look at the painstaking process Popescu goes through for every single negative:

“Piece by piece I hope to add as much information as I can, but right now my main concern is to get the plates digitized,” he tells TIME. “It just seems a shame to lose something so irreplaceable.”

Here’s a small selection of the 1,000+ images that Popescu has digitized thus far:













Due to communist copyright law, all of the images above — and, in fact, the entire digital archive — is in the public domain and available for you to use however you see fit. To see more of the images, or possibly help Popescu to identify people or places photographed therein, head over to the archive’s Flickr, Facebook or Twitter by following the corresponding links.

(via TIME LightBox)

Image credits: Photographs courtesy of the Costica Acsinte Archive

  • agour

    These would suit the reddit colorization page :)

  • David Liang

    Wow, some of them look like they’re in fantastic condition.

  • Stan B.

    Thank god someone is attempting to salvage these invaluable, irreplaceable photographic and cultural artifacts. As ephemeral as these analog images may be, how will the long neglected digital archives of today fare in our distant future?

  • Tiberiu Banica

    It’s Acsinte not Ascinte..

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    “Due to communist copyright law […]”, oh give me a f-ing break, Petapixel.

  • fdfdf

    hopefully “petapixel usa” has a fair health politic XD

  • Alan Dove

    I think “communist” is used as a factual term here, not an insult. Romania was avowedly communist for much of this photographer’s career, which would explain the lack of private copyright on these images.

  • Iovanov

    *Acsinte, not Ascinte

  • Iovanov

    It is factual, but communism itself is an insult. Are you a Kulommunist, Eric?

  • Jeppe

    The quality of some of the negatives is remarkable, and has a very attractive quality. Well done, Cezar Popescu! Is there a way to support him in his endeavor?

  • Alin G. Patru

    Great and admirable work. Unfortunately, the first sentence in the article is misleading.

    There were many professional photographers in Romania starting 1900’s and even before.

    During communist time, even most of the larger villages had at least one trained and certified photographer. You couldn’t work as one without having graduated a course and taken a thorough exam.

    Why a photographer in a village: family photos, I.D. photos, tombstone photos, funeral (yes, funeral) and marriage photos.

    There is a huge archive of film and plates still to be discovered in Romania, especially because photography was one of the liberties our parents, including my father – could fully afford.

    Moreover, photography was taught in schools and home labs were pretty cheap, as well as goodish manual or semi-automatic cameras. I started photography on a Smena 8-m, while my father spent one monthly salary back in the 80’s for a Zenit-E.

  • jackregnart

    I’m scanning what is probably going to be thousands of negatives right now, I feel this guys pain. But, also the sense of accomplishment in doing it.

  • Avril111

    my Aunty Amelia got a new blue Land Rover LR4 only from
    working part time off a home computer… helpful hints B­u­z­z­3­4­.­ℂ­o­m