For photographer Alexander Cozirschii, pop culture is a native language. Born and raised in the Moldovan capital of Chișinău in the 1990s and early 2000s, the 27-year-old cites MTV as among his early inspirations. “I started collecting teen magazines, music tapes, posters and got into making collages. After all these years, I’ve realised that was the origin of my vision and style of editing”, he remembers. “The aesthetics of my region and TV mass culture are all mixed in my current outlook.”
Growing up, pop culture was Cozirschii’s escape both from scarcity and mundanity, helping him to imagine a different kind of life through image-making. In his visual work today, tropes from 2000s music videos are mixed with scenes from his local corner stores and estates, crafting a unique world for a young creative community to reside.
But Cozirschii’s project LEGACY reaches still further into the past, reflecting on Moldova’s Soviet history and how it has influenced the country’s youth today. Using photography, set design and small fragments of text, it seeks to process the struggles of the past, while also commenting on the iconography of the post-Soviet world, particularly the aesthetics which have become ever more prominent in the West. While tower block estates and Lenin statues might appear cliché to outsiders, they remain part of day-to-day reality for young people in some of Moldova’s regions (while most statues have been destroyed, there are about a dozen of them left in Moldova, and more in the breakaway region of Transnistria).
“I was born and raised in Chișinău, the capital Republic of Moldova, which became independent in 1991. The area where I lived was an average, post-Soviet neighbourhood, with housing estates, abandoned factories, and street markets — all of those things that most of the world now sees on social media and have become part of the mass culture we share with the world. The post-Soviet aesthetic affects us regardless of whether that’s good or bad. We can’t change it because we don’t have a choice. To a certain degree, we are prisoners of our situation. But we can also use that situation to spark our creativity and storytelling,” Cozirschii says.
At first glance, LEGACY doesn’t look like a photography project, but rather a glimpse of a larger visual narrative or a non-existent film. We see a range of characters: a schoolgirl in a Soviet-style uniform, a musician moonlighting at a factory, a trader in a second-hand store. They play roles which act as allegories for certain aspects of Moldova’s past and reality: the outdated education system, fashion’s fetishisation of the “poor but cool” trope, the difficulty of surviving in Moldova as a young creative, government corruption, the growing rate of pollution, and the relentless search of love, connection, and self-expression in these circumstances. By subverting the visual language of stereotypes, the project is a search for the new authenticity, and a call to Moldova’s young creatives to become the protagonists in their own story.
But for Cozirschii, LEGACY was also part of the healing process, allowing him to recognise difficult circumstances, while finding power to move past them. “At the time, I felt like I was stuck in time, and LEGACY helped me describe that feeling. I think this might be the right time to start reflecting our society, and not just in photography. I wanted to create something to share with the rest of the world, to show Moldova on a deeper level, as well as resolving inner problems with stereotypical thinking in our country.”