Romanian prisons through the lens of Cosmin Bumbuţ

For quite some time now, photography has been accompanying my professional path as a criminologist, and whenever suitable, I use photography as a tool to shed light on the debates in criminology that are of interest to my students or myself. I have a strong appreciation of anyone who is willing to cross the fences of the criminal justice system and document the penal ‘darkness’ in an engaging way. The other day I was fortunate to come across the prison photographs by Cosmin Bumbuţ, a highly-acclaimed Romanian photographer, and decided to dedicate this post to his work. I selected a number of photographs and with Cosmin’s permission would like to share his work on my blog too.

The first set of photographs reports on the photo workshop for female prisoners, which Cosmin facilitated in Târgșor Prison in 2009. The females were allowed to use cameras throughout the workshop and Cosmin reflects on this experience as follows: ‘In two months they had shot about 14.000 images. At the end of the workshop I had a selection of 1.100 images. I chose the best ones and there had remained 395 images. From my point of view, these 395 photos can be exhibit anytime, without any embarrassment, on any gallery wall. These images are far better than many other pictures: they are honest, innocent and fresh. They don’t show any sign of routine, they are not cold or technical and they don’t let you see one’s trigger-happy pleasure a camera commonly gives.

Penitenciarul de Femei Tirgsor

The second series I was fascinated by is entitled Camera Intima and depicts ‘prison intimate cells’ – dedicated prison rooms that convey the prisoners’ right to private visits. So-called ‘sex cells’, or to put it more diplomatically, ‘conjugal visits’ are seen as a very effective way to maintain prisoners’ complicity. Cosmin explains that ‘In 2005 Aiud (a Romanian prison) looked like a prison from the Communist era. Rooms were dirty and the walls unpainted, the cells were very small and crowded. In 2008, it was renovated and the cells were expanded, the prisoners didn’t wear uniforms. Romanian prisons started to look like the ones from the American movies, with white walls and new metal shiny doors. Prisoners are now allowed officially to have sex inside an institution, but they have to follow all the bureaucratic steps; to write a request, to wait for the approval, to obey the rules. Only prisoners who behave in prison are allowed to have private visits. Prisoners are more obedient when they have access to the intimate rooms’. 

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.


For more information about Cosmin’s work please visit his personal website:

* All photographs are published with the author’s permission. 


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