I’ve mentioned Sandu Mendrea, a Photographer and a friend, whose candid portrait I shot a while ago that I’ve been posting here and there and I thought it’s about time that I introduced you to this modest, ‘unknown’ but nonetheless world renowned photographer.
I met Sandu, Mariana his wife and Dinu their son, about 15 years ago, in a totally different reference, not photographic. I was called to their modest apartment in Jerusalem, in my capacity as a designer and underfloor heating consultant. It was then that I discovered the Photography of the Mendreas.
As I walked round the apartment to get a feel of what I needed to deal with. I went into the kitchen and there, in a corner, was standing a photographic enlarger and a few of the immediately recognisable orange-coloured boxes of Agfa photographic paper. So obviously I remarked, “oh, you make photography, too!”. Dinu, with true Mandrea modesty, replied that he did and for the moment we left it at that and continued with our ‘business’. A few days later, on my next ‘business’ visit, I started to delve into the photography thing and slowly I realised that I had, by pure chance, found a gold mine of photographic experience and talent. With time we all became friends.
“Sandu Mendrea was born in 1930 in Romania. He passed the war in relative safety in the country’s capital, Bucharest, where he also started his studies for a M.A. in theatre and film directing – in 1948, the year of the Communist takeover. After working for two years as a director for documentary films, in 1954 he decided to abandon this field, which in those days was dominated by Soviet-style propaganda, and took the camera into his own hands – as a photographer.
He was soon to become one of the country’s most well known photographers, which allowed him to exhibit at over 200 International Photography Salons. He won several major awards and in 1965 he was conferred the title “Excellency of the International Photographers Federation” (EFIAP). After benefiting from a short period of relative liberalization, in the mid seventies through the early eighties his work came under the increasing pressure of ideological and extreme daily life hardships. These convinced him about the complete lack of perspectives in communist Romania, and helped him and his family decide to leave for Israel. For a man with deep ties with his Romanian home country, it was a very hard decision to take. At the end of 1985 the Mendreas were allowed to leave.
Once in Israel he continued his work. Along with his day job with the Israel Antiquities Authority, he started taking pictures at one of the most photographically interesting place in the country, the Western Wall, for a long-term black-and-white project. He also extensively photographed the country for travel book, calendar and postcard publishers from Western Europe and Israel. His younger son, Dinu Mendrea, who studied photography in Jerusalem, joined him and the resulting “Kotel – The Western Wall” series was published and exhibited all across Europe.
The present exhibition at the Jerusalem Cinematheque includes some of Sandu Mendrea’s most successful black-and-white works from his years in Romania. Unfortunately, many of the negatives of these and other images were destroyed in the Romanian printing houses of those years. The Ceauşescu-era interdiction of taking abroad photographic negatives added to the loss. In a daring attempt of saving some of his work, Sandu Mendrea’s family hid the most important of the remaining negatives in their clothing while exiting the country. Luckily they managed to pass the airport controls. In a further lucky strike, a German friend who had received a selection of small prints in 1967, found them again in 1987 in a cupboard crammed with spare parts in his Frankfurt auto repair shop. These prints, together with the other saved negatives, create the stock from which this exhibition has been put together.”
The Romanian Institute of Culture, Tel Aviv.
Sandu in Romania
Sandu and Dinu
So now you’ve met my friends, The Mendreas.