- In 2016, film student Victor Galusca found almost 4,000 photos in an abandoned home in the small country of Moldova.
- The photos were taken by a photographer, Zaharia Cusnir, and depicted village life in 1955 Moldova under the Soviet Union.
- Insider spoke with Galusca, who shared the story of how he found the photos, and how he plans to honor Cusnir’s life.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Photos capture history, moments in time so fleeting that they’re gone as quickly as they arrive.
In 2016, film student Victor Galusca was working on a student film in an abandoned house in Moldova when he discovered thousands of photos that had captured life decades prior.
Moldova, a small country bordered by Romania and Ukraine, had declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but Galusca discovered almost 4,000 photos documenting what village life had been like under the regime. These photos were all taken by the same man, Zaharia Cusnir, and had been locked away in his home to be forgotten.
Galusca decided to share his discovery with the world.
In 2016, film student Victor Galusca was using this abandoned home as a location for one of his movies, when he made an exciting discovery.
The home is located in the small village of Rosietici, Moldova.
He discovered 4,000 film negatives that revealed snapshots of what life was once like in Moldova.
“When I found them, I felt instantly this is a treasure,” he told Insider.
The photos were scattered around the floor of the home and hidden inside a suitcase, he said.
Galusca began asking around about who owned the house, and he was put in contact with the daughter of a photographer named Zaharia Cusnir (pictured in color).
“I asked her what [the photos] are. She said, ‘They are my father’s photos.’ And I asked her, ‘Why they are in this house that is abandoned?'” he told Insider. According to Galusca, Cusnir’s daughter called them trash.
Cusnir’s daughter allowed Galusca to keep the photos. “We don’t need them, they are garbage,” she told him.
Galusca spent the rest of the afternoon going through the house and collecting all the negatives that he could find.
Galusca took the photos to his photography professor at the Academy of Arts of Moldova, Nicolae Pojoga.
“First, we would clean them with different solutions. Then we indexed them,” Galusca said. “We gave them a number. Every photo has a number, a name, a code.”
The pair began piecing together aspects of Cusnir’s life, with help from his family.
Galusca said there was too much information to go through, rather than too little.
They learned Cusnir was the youngest of 16 children in the village of Rosietici.
Cusnir (not pictured) went to school in the neighboring village of Rogojeni and finished it in present-day Romania. He wanted to be a school teacher.
“I know he was a teacher only one year,” Galusca said. “Before the second World War, Moldova and Romania [were] the same country. When Soviet power came, they put the border between us.”
Under Soviet rule, Cusnir was forced to quit his job as a teacher, and endured physical labor instead of pursuing academia, Galusca said.
Academic or government jobs typically went to those of other nationalities, Galusca said.
Like other workers, Cusnir would remove stone boulders, dig up the frozen ground, carry clay, break down walls, and feed the cows, among other tasks.
During this time, Cusnir learned photography from his nephew, and it became his passion.
“That’s why, I think, he started to take photographs,” Galusca said. Since the government didn’t allow him to teach, Cusnir found a new outlet to express himself.
“He made such beautiful photos,” Galusca continued.
Cusnir began photographing both his village and neighboring villages in 1955. He continued for 15 years.
Though his wife and children disapproved, Cusnir continued his hobby taking photos of everyone in the village – including poor people who didn’t feature in much photography due to their social status.
He took photos for 15 years until around 1970.
When he died in 1993, Cusnir’s house remained empty.
The negatives remained in the house gathering dust until Galusca came across them in 2016.
In the decades since his death, Cusnir’s house has been badly damaged and is in danger of falling apart.
Galusca said the windows were broken, the floors torn up, and the site was full of garbage.
In fact, around 80% of the houses in Rosietici have either been abandoned or destroyed. “It’s a disappearing village,” Galusca said.
It was the secluded nature and the state of the buildings that initially attracted Galusca to film his project there. The village has around 40 inhabitants left, and Cusnir’s own daughter died in summer 2019.
In the future, Galusca wants to renovate the house and turn it into a small museum in Cusnir’s honor.
“We think to organize a tourist attraction there,” he said. Galusca has also considered creating an artist’s residency in the village, a place where people can go and work on their creative projects in peace and tranquility.
But since not everyone can get to a remote village in Moldova, Galusca and his photography professor created a website to display the photos for the entire world to appreciate.
“We scanned them high quality so now everyone can see them,” Galusca said. “We plan to upload all the photos.”
Right now, the site has 800 photos, separated into eight albums, but he told Insider that the work will be finished in a few months.
They also held an exhibition for the photos at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Moldova in 2018, and three exhibitions in Romania.
They even published a book of Cusnir’s photos.
Sometimes, Galusca likes to look at the photos and compare Rosietici’s current condition to the past.
“For me it’s been interesting to see the photos and the present of the village. I like to see the differences between the photos and the present reality,” he said.
Galusca expressed disbelief that in just 50 years, the village has become almost entirely abandoned. He also told Insider, “I think the most beautiful village is the houses you see in the photos. It’s not like a common village. It is special.”
He paused, before amending his statement. “It was special.”
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