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The thermal waters at Băile Herculane are not only popular with the people with ailments who visit them: the spa's awe-inspiring architecture and spectacular location in the south of Romania, make it a first-class setting for taking photographs. Equipped with an M10, Mioara Chiparus has set out to immortalise this very historic place.

LFI: The pictures were taken in a really exciting environment. What was your first impression when you arrived at Băile Herculane and what fascinated you most about the place?

Mioara Chiparus: I was actually born in Băile Herculane and spent the first thirteen years of my life there. My parents still reside in Băile Herculane and I visit the city very often. I decided to start my project in 2014 when I noticed the decline of this, one of the oldest, hot springs resorts in Romania. At the beginning I only photographed the state of the buildings, but with time I shifted my lens towards portraying the people who came seeking the thermal waters.

How did your project develop over time?

As I was photographing those beautiful, sad ruins, my eyes would wander along the river where, despite the deterioration of the town, I observed that tourists were still coming to Băile Herculane, to soak in the therapeutic hot springs, to lie in hot pools along the river, and luxuriate in the sun, the serenity, and the scenic surroundings—the mountains, the woodlands, the stone walls. I started spending many hours going along the river, where visitors and locals engaged with each other in the pools, remarking on the miracles of these waters, discussing old times and their hope that the healing waters will keep the city alive, and that one day the old baths will be restored to their former grandeur.

Did you have any photographic approach in mind, anything you wanted to tell through your pictures?

My pictures illustrate the spiritual connection people find in flowing water, and with a historic site that, despite years of neglect, still holds considerable magic for them, not the least of which is the poignancy that decay and antiquity can inspire, in imagining what once was, what was lost, and what may one day be found and treasured anew.

What do you personally think about the future of Băile Herculane?

In recent years I've spent many hours going along the river, talking to people visiting my city of birth, listening to their stories and their reasons for “taking the waters”. Like them, I am hopeful for Băile Herculane’s future. I believe that as long as the “sacred waters” still flow, there is hope for Băile Herculane to regain its grandeur.

After Healing Waters was published in National Geographic Romania, I decided to start working on a book with the same title. Together with my editor Cristian Bassa from Romania, we are carefully working through my photographs coming up with a selection for the book, which is expected to come out in print later this fall. (dar)

All images on this page © Mioara Chiparus
Equipment: Leica M10 mit Summilux-M 35/1:1.4, Noctilux-M 50/.95, Elmarit-M 28/1:2.8, Elmarit-M 21/1:2.8
© Vangelis Fotsis

Mioara Chiparus

Mioara Chiparus was born in Romania in 1976 and currently lives in Athens. Capturing human experiences and states of consciousness with great empathy, she uses her photography to explore and question the limitations of traditional photography. Numerous workshops with, among others, Alex Webb, Jacob Aue Sobol and Thomas Dworzak, have sharpened her senses for documentary and portrait photography.

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