When Covid-19 hit Europe in March last year, London-based photographer Elena Sirețanu travelled back home to Moldova to attend a family funeral. She had planned to spend a week there, but as travel was suspended and Sirețanu was furloughed from her job, she found herself stuck in her native country for several months. “I was like a ball of negativity, always wishing I was back in London,” she recalls.
Yet, the change of plans was a blessing in disguise. Like many stranded city dwellers caught up amid pandemic restrictions, Sirețanu found herself revisiting her relationship with the countryside. “Lockdown helped me find peace and solitude within the natural environment,” she tells The Calvert Journal. Rather than going out clubbing with her friends, Sirețanu began camping or swimming, particularly when restrictions in Moldova were eased. Her photos came together in the series An Ode to Summer and Female Friendships. In it, she captures the tame side of the Moldovan wilderness: warm waters, strong trees, mellow meadows. She portrays humans and their natural surroundings not as two separate entities, but as dynamic parts of the same whole.
These experiences in nature did not just change how Sirețanu saw her lifestyle and environment; it also helped her reshape her own ideas of femininity. “Wild camping, swimming, and fire-making are symbols of rebellion, escape, and freedom, associated with myths of masculinity. After being obsessed with these things when I was a teenager, I wanted to see the same freedom and rebelliousness celebrated in women,” she says. Blending techniques from documentary and aesthetic photography, the series was an attempt to “try to reclaim this space,” to portray the young women of her friendship group “as fearless and free, tender yet fierce.”
“This is the closest I got and perhaps will ever get to a female runaway commune utopia,” Sirețanu laughs. Yet ultimately, her photo series is an ode to belonging — both to a peer group, and nature. “Among my female friends,” she explains, “I have felt the confident serenity and intense pleasure of being present and part of the world around me.”