Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Photographer Nicholas J R White chronicles the development of a new National Park in Romania

  • Written by  Jacob Dykes
  • Published in Geophoto
Photographer Nicholas J R White chronicles the development of a new National Park in Romania
12 Nov
In his ongoing photographic project, Carpathia, Nicholas J R White documents the mission to create a new National Park in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania. Carpathia is an expansive mixture of landscape and portraiture, shot on traditional large-format film photography. He explores what it takes to build a National Park, evoking the mysterious sensations of wilderness

Dubbed ‘the green capital of Europe’, Romania is home to some six million hectares of forests; an extensive population of large carnivores; and over 3,700 species of plants. However, in 2004, the restitution of formerly nationalised land resulted in a new ownership structure of two-thirds of Romanian forest. The large-scale purchase of forests by logging companies resulted in thousands of hectares of virgin forest being cleared. Large clear-cuts and monocultures rend the natural flora, leaving soils on mountain slopes unprotected and exposed to erosion.

Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) works to protect Romanian land. Over the past decade, it has acquired more than 21,000 hectares of forest; created a hunting-free zone spanning 36,000 hectares; and planted over 1.5 million saplings. Its utlimate aim is to create a 250,000-hectare National Park spanning the Făgăraș Mountains, the Piatra Craiului National Park and Leaota Mountains area. 

British photographer Nicholas J R White was captivated by the enormity of FCC’s mission. ‘Just how do you go about creating a National Park? How is that possible? Especially in Romania, which is far from an economic powerhouse,’ he says. ‘We often see conservation visualised mostly through pictures of animals or landscapes. In the Southern Carpathians, I realised that people were actively going out and trying to create a National Park. This relationship between the human and natural worlds is what inspired me photographically.’ To get out to Romania, White successfully applied for The Photographic Angle & Royal Photographic Society Bursary, which kickstarted his photographic work: Carpathia.

nw carpathia highres 17Nicholas J R White: This photograph was made during one of the patrols with the Wildlife Monitoring team. We were operating in the next valley, when a radio call informed us of a bear attack at this smallholding in the Dambovita Valley. Initially, I’d framed up the 5x4 directly next to the pig shed, but as the rangers began lowering the cage I instead opted for a wider composition, framing the smallholding and the mountains behind. As with all the images in Carpathia I was constantly trying to frame the work of the NGO alongside the normality of rural life.'

Knowing he had to earn the trust of FCC’s on-the-ground team, White immersed himself in their work. ‘I’d never been to Romania before, and I don’t speak Romanian. I was dealing with a cultural divide that was compacted by a long-standing suspicion of photographers. I needed to make sure that the rangers understood that I intended to celebrate their work, and I did so by getting my hands dirty.’

Carpathia depicts rangers and volunteers setting out into vast stretches of alpine forest, completing arcane tasks that, in their multitudes, form the backbone of a National Park. ‘I tried to create a sense of ambiguity as to how the rangers’ activities are depicted,’ says White. ‘I wanted to replicate the sense of their seemingly unachievable goal. To understand FCC’s conservation work, I became embedded in the ranks of the wildlife monitoring team. It’s their job to go out into the wilderness in search of single strands of hair, scat, urine samples, and footprints.’

nw carpathia highres 21Nicholas J R White: Aron is the Game Warden for Stoenesti Hunting Area and has allowed the rangers to expand their patrol here. The chief ranger Bogdan, Aron and I ambitiously took the 4x4 up to the ridge. I wasn’t sure why we were going there, but not wanting to pass up an opportunity I came along for the ride. After being treated to a selection of cheese and meat (served of course, off the dirty bonnet of the car), I set up the 5x4 with the 150mm and began making Arons portrait. Luckily Bogdan speaks fluent English, so he was stood beside me translating my requests to position Aron in frame.'

White also focused on the other side of this story. The bears, wolves and lynx that FCC serve to protect can damage property and predate livestock. ‘Local Romanian communities can often be very poor, and damage to livestock can seriously impact their livelihoods. These communities form a huge part of Carpathia,’ says White. 

FCC also works closely with the hunting community, but as White knows, local attitudes don’t always align with FCC’s conservation goals: ‘There’s definitely a generational gap. The older generation – many of whom grew up in communist Romania – tend to uphold the hunting culture. But there are a new generation of inspired younger people welcoming FCC’s mission.'

nw carpathia highres 19Nicholas J R White: 'As Carpathia grows, I see it splitting into several chapters. One of which involves the large-scale forest replanting projects. The rangers wanted to show me the spruce replanting site, and after making some initial landscapes to contextualise the project, I was passed by this young worker on the hillside. He had dashed past me to collect more spruce to replant on the slopes below. He wasn’t dressed like the other forest workers, instead opting for a casual tracksuit. He only stood there for a short while – but long enough to expose two sheets of film.'

‘This is important because brain drain is a huge problem in Romania – younger people have abandoned small farming communities in search of employment opportunities across Europe. As Europe’s ‘green capital’, FCC know that protecting the country’s biodiversity is an act of economic preservation. Heightened conservation efforts promise to empower rural communities by increasing ecotourism opportunities, and in turn, incentivise younger generations to settle.

The growth of the national park and the societal transition that could accompany it will take a long time. With matched patience, White will be chaptering Carpathia into a chronicled log of the journey to National Park status. ‘I wanted to really spend time with rangers and local communities. Part of that came from not taking photos at all, instead building trust and experience. I often come back from Romania with just two or three negatives. If the project takes a decade, it takes a decade. There’s a saying that a photographic work isn’t good when it’s done; it’s done when it’s good.’ 

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

nw carpathia highres 06Nicholas J R White: 'This picture was made at the end of a patrol in the Rucar Hunting Area. The rangers were on the lookout for bear tracks in the vicinity and pointed out an area of interest. I exited the vehicle and remained on the ridgeline, allowing the rangers to continue down the forest road below. From memory I think this was shot on the long lens (210mm). The rounded hillside and the treeline in the foreground made an interesting composition, with some haze helping to separate the layers. The main challenge with this shot was standing totally alone in an exposed area, operating a 5x4 with a blanket over my head knowing that bears were in the area!'

Inspiration: 'I fell in love with the works of Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite and David Ward. As I began working on projects, I was really inspired by the work of photographers like Simon Norfolk, Olaf Otto-Becker and Sophie Ristelhueber.'

Purpose: 'With the environmental and climate crises, together with a lot of social unrest that we’re seeing in the media now, it can be overwhelming. Stories told photographically should be able to cut through all the noise, and provide people with a way to understand our increasingly complex world.'

Advice: 'Don’t shoot projects because you feel you have to. Take the time to develop your own style, and build it with subjects that are close to your heart. Your interests outside of photography are as important as the photography itself – you have to care about and understand your subject choice.'

Nicholas J R White is a British photographer exploring human relationships with the environment and natural landscapes. His previous work Black Dots is an intimate depiction of Scottish 'bothy culture', the landscape and people who uphold a long-standing outdoor culture. Carpathia is an ongoing project that will culminate in the publishing of a book. You can follow him on instagram here, and explore his full works on his website.

Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!


Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


Xavi Bou's artistic visions of flight beguile the eye


Hydropower is considered essential if the world is to reach…


An overlap between populations of grizzly bears and Indigenous groups…


Climate change is having a huge impact on the oceans,…


The first COP26 draft agreement has been released


Marco Magrini explores the complex issue of carbon markets –…


The youth found marching outside the COP26 conference in Glasgow…


Energy day at COP26 was all about coal. Marco Magrini…


The world is reliant on the climate models that forecast…


Geographical editor, Katie Burton, spends the day at COP26: finance…


Lawyers are using the power of the courts to challenge…


Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society…


Will China's climate pledges be enough to achieve Xi Jinping's…