Paradise Now

For any visitor of the Danube Delta it is extremely difficult to ignore the beauties it lavishly displays all around. One can obviously go to the Danube Delta simply to do business there, in fisheries, in shipping or in any other industrial branch. One can go there to participate in the new, hype film festival of Sfantu Gheorghe, therefore for purely cultural, intellectual purposes. One can also go there to study the peculiar situation of the local people, especially of the Lipovans, inhabitants of Russian origin, whose religious belief determined them to flee from Russia centuries ago and establish a lasting community in the area around Danube's meeting point with the Black Sea. To such focused, ethnographic and sociological research, one can add scientific explorations of the rich biological diversity of the region. Nonetheless, none of the sequential and specialized interests of this kind would and could make abstraction of the most powerful attraction of the Danube Delta, that is its intrinsic appeal as a place of innate beauty. Profit, science or culture, the declared partial interests of each visitor of the Danube Delta would finally turn into superficial interests when faced to the tremendous, pulsating and flamboyant, luscious flow of dazzling, colorful life around. In this sense, one might say that the most authentic experience of the Danube Delta is the one of the visitor, of the tourist. An incursion in the Danube Delta is like a trip to Paradise proper: it is a source of everlasting fascination and longing, a passage through a blissful place made to be both an ideal and at the same time incredibly realizable goal. Daniel Petrescu's photographs illustrating the present issue of Plural dedicated to the Danube Delta are shot precisely from this point of view. They are neither the product of an ecologist addicted to the sentimental promotion of conservationist theses, nor the outcome of the neutral research of a professional biologist interested solely in dispassionately documenting the natural mechanics of life for the use of science's cold eye. At the same time, his photographs are not the result of an advertising-like effort of glorifying and glossifying the gift of nature into a costly commodity. Daniel Petrescu's perspective is the one of an offspring of the land-and-water region he patently loves more as an eager connoisseur than simply as a native. One has the feeling that the photographer's eye is endlessly surprised, even after a life spent there, by the boundless diversity and unexpected charm of the world around him. His ever fresh curiosity is refreshed again and again, after each perfect shot, and ready to search for another unique, rare instant, right after happily pinpointing a matchless moment of pulchritude in a suggestive photograph. His Danube Delta is always resplendent, although not always exploiting the agreeable, auspicious side of the things. Instances of feeding, especially of bird feeding, imply marvelous photographs such as of storks delicately, exquisitely but also mercilessly hunting frogs, snakes or fish. One of the best shots represents a heron swallowing a large fish preying on fish, most probably a fierce pike fallen in the apt beak of the decorous yet accurate hunter. The cycle of life and especially the permanence of life, the chain of eternal exchange of biological substance manifested as consuming and being consumed constitute the subject matter of such photographs of Daniel Petrescu. The self-evidence and the overwhelming normality of this huge yet predicted drama of eating and being eaten make that each instant shot by Daniel Petrescu become a paragon of a life's law. Still, the most interesting part of his enterprise is the constant beauty he finds in the whole environment of such scenes. All the naturally dramatic moments he catches succeed in subtly and unexpectedly infusing a sense of beatitude to the whole scene, as if the normal intertwining of life and death enhances the beauty of the whole landscape.This is the belief acting also behind the other side of Daniel Petrescu's photographic output, his iconic landscapes of the Danube Delta, seen either blossoming during the summer time, dominated by the richness of the water-cum-land territory, where huge trees grow directly from the shallow waters full of lotuses, or freezing in winter, the harsh season of icy channels and savage winds that turn the Danube Delta from a garden of earthly delights into a real, polar purgatory. If his images of the Danube Delta during the lively and lovely summer time appear like shots taken in a utopian paradise, his winter landscapes shot in the same area seem to be images taken from a dystopian location, a site of despondency and disconsolation. But this is only an impression. In fact, the opposing seasons act, similarly to the herons chasing frogs, as concrete symbols of a perpetual intermingling of life and death, of the chain of consuming and being consumed, of the perpetual succession of resplendency and sorrow that constitute the rule of life in the realm of the waters bordering the lands.

by Erwin Kessler