Vanea, 12, gave up school and joined the fishermen of Sfistofca. Petrut Calinescu/The Stand

Life Along the Water

Petrut Calinescu

Danube Delta. Ongoing

The Danube delta is among the largest and best preserved of the European deltas. Home to more than 300 species of birds as well as 45 freshwater fish species in its numerous lakes and marshes, it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1991.

On the human side, about 15,000 people live here, isolated by water, ignored by authorities, without medical assistance or other meanings of transport except boats. Most of the delta inhabitants earn a living by fishing and farming, and while many were born here, others settled in this isolated place to be forgotten by the rest of the world.

Q&A with Petrut Calinescu

The Danube is such a famous river, yet the delta seems so little known. Is this why you went?
Everybody, at least in Romania, speaks about the Danube Delta in terms of nature, about the fauna and flora. That beautiful landscape and ecosystem needs to be preserved, true, but you barely hear about the people living here. That was what I was interested in: in their survival stories in such a remote place.

What did you think you would find, photographically speaking?
Beautiful landscapes and harsh living conditions. A fishing community in decline. Usually I don’t think that much about what I could find, I prefer to jump into the place and see myself with my eyes.

We recently posted a series of your images from the Black Sea. Was this part of that project?
I began this story before the Black Sea, which documents a much wider area. In the end I thought some of the Danube pictures could be integrated into the Black Sea.

How much time did you spend in the Delta, was it a single trip or a series of trips?
I’ve been there around six times, about two weeks, more or less, each time.

What was your approach to choosing settlements or themes?
I wasn’t interested in landscapes only, so I was looking for human settlements. There are not so many, around 10 to 15, so I made my goal to see and stay a bit in each.

Some of these places seem very remote, what transport did you use?
Once you’re in the main city at the gates of Danube Delta you could enter one of the three main channels by a passenger ferry. Then through the network of small channels you could take a boat or walk where it is possible to do that. I did some part of the tour with the bicycle too – although the sandy terrain made it difficult.

We love your photography, and are curious if you would do something different on a return trip, or if indeed you plan to go back?
Danube Delta is changing very fast. My pictures, even if the oldest ones were taken no more than 10 years ago, look so outdated comparing with the reality. The locals are pushed out, forced to look for other ways of surviving. Many left for abroad, as there is not enough fishing to make a living anymore. Now, much richer people are cruising the waters in speedboats just for fun. Tourism is developing and more or less it will look soon as a playground for rich people.

Maybe you have a picture of you in the Delta?
Nope, sorry.

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