A professional DJ at 16, he’s now an editorial, fashion, and portrait photographer who’s definitely on the way up.
A Bucharest-based photographer, born and raised in Constanta on the Black Sea, Vali Barbulescu grew up listening to Michael Jackson’s music, and at age 16, began his career by winning a contest for a local radio station DJ job. As a noted DJ and electronic music producer/re-mixer, and he had the opportunity to travel the whole world for my gigs so photographic opportunities came to him quite naturally. But he also had a passion for visual expression that was destined to transform his life and work. “When you see a person’s face it’s like being a witness to all his life,” Vali observes. “When you photograph that person you simply stop time and make that fraction of a second last forever. That’s why I love portraiture most of all. I try with all my photographs to capture as much as possible the “reality” of what I saw, and that can be quite different from the ‘reality’ seen by everyone else.  Some call this ‘vision.’ I have found many similarities between music and images. A great photograph can impress me as much as a great song –sometimes even more—but I think photography is a more ‘general language.’ After my images were first published in famous glossy magazines, it become official that in 10 years I would be a young photographer rather that an old DJ. I’ve also found that moving from photography into videography has been a seamless transition, and I recently directed, shot, and edited my first musical video.”
Q: In passing, you stated that you shot one particular picture with the lens wide open at f/1.4 and that you loved the “creamy bokeh.” Which Leica M lenses do you like best or use most often? Do you think there is an identifiable difference in the pictures you shoot with Leica lenses, and can you say something about that?
A: There has to be something “magic” with Leica lenses. That is what all Leica users think and the funny thing is that you get a confirmation of that statement with every shot. As a “grown up” photographer I am now searching for the “character” of a lens rather than perfect “technical specs.” I like the Summicron 50mm f/2.0 best for environmental portraitsm and for street work the Summilux 35mm f/1.4 ASPH is simply amazing. I also had the chance to try the  Noctilux 50mm f/0.95, and I was amazed! I would love to own one someday…
Q: You state quite firmly that you want to be “a good photographer and not a scientist.” Yet, you said that you learned photography largely by “experimenting,” which is what scientists do to gain knowledge and proficiency, and learned about “the basics of optical physics” on YouTube to get properly exposed shots. Since photography is essentially a technologically based art form do you really think that there is a dichotomy between developing your vision and your technical skills or are they entwined?
A: I think that you NEED to know “the basics of optical physics” in order to “understand” photography as a process. You DON’T need to know this to have “the eye”. I wanted both and that’s why I was studying a little science. It’s like writing a beautiful song on a piano—you create it and you play it but if you want to be able to write it yourself on a score you’ve got to know the notes and some musical theory. I don’t want my vision and creation flow to be influenced by some “science” but I want to be able to use science in my favor when needed. If I shoot candid, fashion or even street photos I need to be able to catch those moments, feelings, and emotions. If I shoot product or macro images then science is more useful.
Q: Your eloquent statement about being grateful for the sheer joy of seeing things and being able to “share them with the whole world by pressing a single button” gets to the heart of the magic of photography. Do you think it’s essential to keep this thought in mind always, and how do you think it affects the way you approach photography or influences the way you see things?
A: As a photographer, specific “frames” just hit my eyes while walking down the street, or entering a room or meeting a person. I only have to decide that those frames are to be shared or not. I have many photographs I never showed to other people for the single reason that I DIDN’T take them, but I SAW them!  The crucial decision is whether to take or not to take a photograph I SEE.
Q: How do you know when one of your images fulfills your beautiful statement, “I could make 1/125 fraction of a second last forever. And this is simply amazing!” Is this the unstated aim that motivates your creative quest?
A: You always know a “good photograph” just before taking it. That 1/125 fraction of a second will last forever anyway if it was RECORDED. My aim is to create as many “good photographs” as possible and not to shoot as much as I can. With a DSLR you definitely shoot more because of the frame rate, speed and storage, but with a Leica M you will look for quality and not quantity. When capturing portraits of people with my Leica feels like they give me that moment of their lives. For me is the ultimate gift to receive.
Q: You note that the Leica M is “an inspiring tool…that makes me think twice before taking a shot,” and describe yourself as “the middle man between those in the frame and those outside the frame.” We think you’re definitely onto something, but can you enlarge upon these incisive statements?
A: Sometimes I consider myself a hunter. My camera is my weapon and knowing that I can rely on it makes me more relaxed in front of my “targets”. The Leica M9 gives me somehow the power and strength of the great photographers who used the Leica M for those iconic images and amazing photographic ventures from the past. I know that holding in my hands a camera that most of Magnum photographers used makes me more responsible in a way. When shooting street photography for example it is really important for me to make those looking at my photographs to understand those scenes using their own imagination. Most of times I do not want to offer them a complete, easy to interpret frame. I want their brains to work on my images because only then can I be considered the “link” for their interpretation.
Q: What fashion/portrait assignments do you have lined up for the immediate future, and how do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next 3-5 years? Do you plan to do anything with your street photography other than create art for art’s sake?
A: I recently did a fashion campaign in Paris and a beauty advert for a well known cosmetics brand in Vienna, Austria. Next is going to be Dubai for a look-book, then back to Bucharest for an important fashion event where I will shoot a backstage documentary. It is really hard for me as I am not yet represented by a professional Photo Agency but I try to work as much as I can. I know that a good agency would help me a lot though. After almost 20 years of DJ-ing I am really confident that if you do what you really love you have all the chances to succeed in that particular field. I do photography with all my passion and I work a lot to improve my skills and to evolve as an artist. I follow my creative instincts and I also try to find a good balance to satisfy my clients. I really can’t figure it out what’s going to happen in 5 years from now on but I know for sure that my passion and dedication to photography will make me a happy man.
Like I said, I love street photography and I will do it whenever possible. I plan to make a vast street documentary of Paris and compare it with Bucharest, which was called once “The Little Paris”. My country, Romania is really beautiful and aside from all those Dracula myths, homeless Gypsies and general poverty, there are a lot of other stories to be told. We have some amazing landscapes and the most beautiful girls in the world. Those would make great photography subjects for anyone out there.
I’m firmly convinced that if you want to make it in fashion photography you have to live in a city that is involved in fashion, so I will move to Paris in the early 2013 and of course I’m always ready to travel the whole world in the pursuit of “the perfect shot.”
In this second and final installment of his story, Vali Barbulescu reveals with amazing cogency the details of his inner creative processes, and his unique relationship with technology, science, and the equipment he uses.
Thank you for your time, Vali!
– Leica Internet Team
Check out more of Vali’s work on his website, 500px , and Behance. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and @valibarbulescu on Instagram.