Claudiu Guraliuc is a fine art photographer and educator based in Cluj, Romania. He is a Master Photographer who has been awarded numerous international accolades including the 2020 Fine Art Photographer of the Year award at the Master Photography Awards Gala in the UK. His work is in galleries, private collections, and museums throughout Asia, Europe, and the US and has been published by international photography magazines.
Sloika Head of Creator Relations, Pam Voth, sat down for a conversation with Claudiu about his creative process, inspiration, and journey into NFT photography.
Visit "True Sight," Claudiu Guraliuc's debut editions on Sloika. Each comes with a Collector's Edition limited fine art print. See the link for details.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pam Voth: I think your fine art portraits and conceptual photography are some of the most stunning work I've seen. Can you tell me what photography means to you?
Claudiu Guraliuc: Well, I am a studio photographer now. But I started as a photographer, you know? Like all of us, I was shooting flowers in the park. For me, I think it was a way to manage a stressful job. I used to work in banking. And my blood pressure was really high. The doctors recommended, hey, you should reduce stress. You know those discussions. I started photography just to have something to relax. But that grew for me and in three years, I left my day job. I started building – I don't know, let's call it a career in photography.
The thing is that I'm now 45. And you know, for each of us, there is a time when you should just do what you love to do. And this is what I do. I do it every day. Every morning, I step into my studio. It's like winning the lottery every day. Because if you could win the lottery, what would you do? You'd do the things that make you happy. And that's what I do. I come to my studio every morning and do the thing that gives me joy.
Now I specialize in fine art portraiture and fine art painterly nudes. Basically, I didn't even know if I liked photography. I really do like painting – and I can paint! I kept trying to bring that aesthetic, especially the aesthetic of the old masters – the Baroque period and the Dutch Golden Age – to the expression of digital photography. I try not to replicate, but to translate that to this medium. I try to create images that are relevant to the audience of the 21st century. I create an aesthetic that's based on what those guys did in classical painting, but I try to make it relevant to our time and the world we're living in.
PV: I do see a lot of that in your work. I notice themes of love, turmoil, and spirituality. I was wondering where you got your inspiration.
CG: As a studio photographer, I'm constantly inspired by the timeless beauty and technical mastery of classical painting and by the way the old masters were able to capture the human form and the way they managed to convey emotion and create a sense of atmosphere and mood. I seek to bring that aesthetic into the modern medium of photography and into its language.
I'm particularly drawn by the way that classical painting is or was able to convey that sense of grandeur and drama – the drama of chiaroscuro. And I try to replicate that in my own work through the use of dramatic lighting. And I love working in a studio because I must! I'm a control freak. Here in the studio, the light, the atmosphere, the drama are just how I see it in my mind.
You know, when you're working with natural light, it's how God wants it to be. Here in the studio, I'm God. And the lighting and everything else is how my mind's eye sees it. At the same time, I have always tried to bring a sense of intimacy and emotion into my images by drawing on the traditions of classical portraiture to create images that I hope to be both timeless and deeply personal.
Especially when doing portraiture, you can’t create something of value without both the artist and the sitter, the model, or the actor you're working with, giving up on that wall that we usually put between ourselves and the world. When both parties, the artists and the model give that up, they show themselves to the world like they really are. I think that's when you manage to create something, of value. And ultimately, my goal is to create images that draw on the traditions of classical painting, while also finding ways to make those traditions relevant and accessible to contemporary audiences.
I guess I'm trying to combine the best of the past with the possibilities of the present. And to create something that's both timeless and modern, and that speaks to the enduring beauty and humanity of human experience.
PV: I was wondering if that's where the bubble gum came in. Tell me about the bubble gum.
CG: You know, I always look at other artists' work and try to find inspiration in that, especially painters. About three years ago, I found the work of this contemporary painter. He lives in Scotland, his name is Alan McDonald. And his work is like a mix of all these Rembrandt-esque characters with all the sobriety and that old master's look. He adds these kitsch elements to the mix, you know? There's this lady with the big collar, like you’d see in Vermeer, or Rembrandt's paintings, and the background is Paris in flames and Spider-Man, Donald Duck, and a tribe and stuff like that. I reached out to him. I bought some of his albums and I kept looking and looking and looking and it always makes me smile. It liberates the inner child, you know. I saw his work and I said, “Hey, let let me do the stuff the serious me would create. And let's just give them bubblegum, for example.”
PV: Why not? I think it's perfect! I love your compositions. Some of them have quite a few people in them all at one time. Is that composite work or are they all there in your studio at one time?
CG: Sometimes they’re together posing and sometimes not. There are some pieces with six, or seven people in them that are just one shot. I don't know if you know the piece, it's called Pentheus and the Maenads. It's based on maybe the most violent episode in Greek mythology. It’s a panel panoramic shot that’s been collected by Mondoir. That's a composite because thirteen people are in it. I usually work on seamless paper background, and that's two meters 72. And I couldn't fit 13 people on that and light it and create what they wanted to create. So, I shot smaller groups, and then I did the composite.
But for example, for my latest piece that I created for the royal house of metallurgy. It's an allegory of war. I think there are seven characters in it. It's inspired by the work of Giorgio Vasari’s “Allegory of Justice.” And I thought I will need to do it like that composite but no, I was able to pose it and shoot it in one shot. So it depends.
I have some theatrical posters, for example. I created one for a Russian author, Gogol. And he has this wonderful play called “The Gamblers” and I created a theatrical pop poster for the National Theatre here. The whole cast was like 11 or 12 people and that was also composite. It depends. Sometimes I can do it in one shot. Sometimes I can’t.
Long answer to a short question. I'm sorry, but my name, my family name is Guraliuc. And if somebody would translate that to English, it's "mouthy".
PV: It sounds like it's from the root word “garrulous,” like lots of words, saying lots of things. So I think you come by it honestly!
CG: I have a diploma that says Guralius. They misspelled my name.
PV: Well, they should fix their mistake. I was just curious if you knew about the painters that created these works that are inspiring to you. Do you think that they have people altogether? They were probably painting composites as well. Right?
CG: I think they did this for the final grand, mythical biblical scenes that Michelangelo painted. Yeah, I think that there were real-life models, but it was basically a composite. Yeah. Yeah. They didn't know, you know? Everybody's sitting on clouds. And you have since five feet, it's kind of hard to pose them like that. They were basically doing composites. There are some who say that most of the realism in Baroque paintings is done with camera obscura, so with a darkroom.
PV: So going back to the days when you were shooting just flowers and trees and normal things, do you ever do that on a regular basis? Or is your camera only in your hands when you're creating the work that you create in your studio? Do you ever just do phone pictures or casual things?
CG: In my first years, yeah, I used to take my camera everywhere on vacations. My wife would carry that heavy tripod all around Asia with me. Stuff like that. But now, no. I don't take my gear with me. I usually take my phone, and I do you know, the regular photos that a dad does of his daughter, and you know, his family. And sometimes I take a film camera with one roll. And I have to manage all the vacation – over 10 days, two weeks – with one roll. Just because I don't want to be tempted to shoot rapidly. I really feel that we need to step back and just look and create the memories in our heads, not necessarily shooting all the time.
PV: That sounds like another one of those themes of control. This is now self-control. Right?
CG: I try I try. But I'm a control freak. And I'm a perfectionist. If I don't see an image in my mind, I don't do it. I only do it if I can see all the small details and I really know beforehand how it's going to look in the smallest detail possible. And in my studio, I can do that. When I can’t, I tend not to shoot. If I don't know beforehand that I can create an image that's up to my standards, I usually try not to do it.
PV: Sounds like you might have a story about that. Has anything interesting happened, like you were saying earlier about how the models and the people in your photos bring themselves to this place of creation together with you? Do you have any stories where both of you were surprised about what came out of that? Even though you went into it with a very clear picture? Was there a variation that surprised you that was also acceptable to follow through with?
CG: Of course, there are times when we start, you know, executing the plan. And while doing it, you see that there are some things that look better and would produce a better result if changed. But usually, I'm kind of a dictator. It's my way or the highway. Sometimes I make my models cry so I'm not proud of it. But what can I say? It is what you get.
PV: Well, the work that results from these sessions is absolutely beautiful. I know that you are now an NFT artist and you’re minting your photography as NFTs. I was just curious if you could tell us what this has meant for your work to have it available as NFTs. Have you made observations about the way you work now vs before NFTs?
CG: To be honest, I don't think there is such a thing as an NFT artist. You're an artist or you're not. The NFT space is just another venue. Before NFTs, I used to sell my work through traditional galleries that used to sell – and they still do sell – limited edition prints of my work.
I say I stepped into the NFT space last year in September I think and it was like this. Some guys came to my studio and told me, “Hey, we have this proposition for you.” And they started talking and talking and I knew a little bit about the subject. But when I say a little bit it was a very little bit. And they started explaining stuff. And I said, Okay. I really didn't think much of the subject. I said, “Hey, how many images do you want?” They said “What can you give us?” and I said, “Here, take this archive and do what you will and we'll see.”
And they launched this collection and it was kind of under their own brand. It was sold out in about two weeks, something like that. And I saw that it's really something that could work. I said, “Hey, we might have something here.” But they did it all, I did nothing. I just gave them the images.
After that, I started researching, and I started discovering what a revolutionary thing this space is. If you don't know anything about it, it's easy to dismiss it. But if you start learning, and seeing it for what it is, you see that this space gives unprecedented access to communities and resources that make it so easy for an artist – no matter where he is, and sometimes no matter the budget – to showcase his or her work to a global audience in a way that it wasn't possible before.
And I really think that it's revolutionary for creators, artists, and collectors. I started being serious about being present in the space at the beginning of this year.
I met so so many people that I really resonate with and I really like. Of course, it's great that you can easily monetize your work and it's an alternative way of sustaining your work and financing your projects. But also, it's a really awesome way of meeting, these awesome people, both artists, and collectors that you wouldn't have otherwise. They wouldn't have had access to you and you to them. That way of bringing people together people that have so many things in common, people that you can really connect with. It's great.
PV: I would agree. I think that those are the greatest benefits to the human beings who are participating in this space. And I've heard that so many times. Those personal connections that are made and just the exchange of ideas and the exchange of you know, all those good things. That's really perfect.
I love hearing how your journey happened, ‘Some guys came into the studio.’
Do you have any plans moving forward for your creative output? Do you work on a daily basis on new pieces?
CG: You know, for me, it's like this, this type of work, it's time-consuming and resources consuming. The planning of a shoot can take from several days to several weeks. Also, each piece needs a team. And usually, it's professional actors. Because I can easily work with these guys. And it needs makeup artists, hairstylists and assistants, and sometimes wardrobe designers. And it can be a challenge just to synchronize everybody's schedule. And sometimes creating just one piece can get really expensive. Also, the post-production is kind of lengthy, I have pieces that took over 90 hours of post-production. That for me translates into the fact that I cannot produce a high volume of work. So I can maybe create about 30 pieces every year. For me, basically, the plan is just to be able to create the work I love. And I guess it will be the market and the collectors that will ultimately decide if my work is worthy of attention and support. As far as I'm concerned, I'll just keep trying every day to become just a little bit better than I was the day before. Basically, that's the plan just as long as I can come here to my studio every day and do my stuff. I'm happy.
PV: Thank you so much, Claudiu. I loved talking with you. It's been a pleasure to meet you and I'm looking forward to seeing the new work that you create.
Full audio interview:
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