Time has rendered these portraits virtual abstractions. Beyond the psychedelic swirls of their shrinking, pealing emulsion, next to nothing is known about the subjects of the photographs, and very little about the photographer who made them. The greater part of their allure comes not from the information revealed, but from what is obscured and denied to the viewer.
Costica Acsinte was a Romanian army photographer during World War I who, following his discharge, opened a small commercial studio in Slobozia, about 80 miles east of Bucharest. For two decades after the war, he was likely the only professional photographer in the county, and by the time of his death in 1984, he had built an archive of epic, anthropological scope containing upwards of 5,000 glass-plate negatives and several hundred prints.
“Anybody who needed a picture had to come to his studio,” says Cezar Popescu, the one-time lawyer-turned-photographer who for several…
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