All my bags are packed; I’m ready to go…
I’m never ready to go. There’s always the feeling I’ve forgotten something, so I always check and double-check my equipment.
This may sound ludicrous, but I’m on a bus for 5 days and 6500 km just to shoot the portrait of one man. Nicu Covaci – Leader and founder of Phoenix, or as known outside Romania, Transylvania Phoenix.
This is a big deal. He’s kind of the Mick Jagger of Romania. Actually, in 2012 both The Rolling Stones and Phoenix are celebrating 50 years of activity.
The trip was long and not without happenings. It started with simple control at the Romanian border, but soon complicated with people getting pulled off the bus and arrested in Spain, Narcotics dogs sniffing everyone in France, robberies in gas stations along the way – courtesy of the Rroma citizens travelling on the same bus. And if that wasn’t enough, a poor 80-year old delusional man fled Spain and bought a ticket for Romania to visit his sick wife – only to find out from his daughter that she reported him missing and… his wife has been dead for 10 years.
None of these events could deter me from my main goal. I had one day to make sure I get the shot with Nicu. And I was over-stressed. Had to take the bus because I was travelling with my mobile studio. It is mobile enough to fit on a plane, but the fees for extra weight don’t fit in my budget. So I had to make sure that my gear would survive the tremor of all the potholes in Europe. That’s why I chose the HPRC 2780 – Iulian Capatoiu @ F64 strongly suggested it and after some well-documented research, I decided to go for it.
It’s a military grade, transport case. But no matter how much I researched, I was terrified to pack my sensitive flash units along with all other luggage on a bus, for 5 days. As it turns out – it was the best choice I could have made. Not only does the case protect the gear, but it also served as a stepladder, stool, coffee table and anything else in between.
Arriving in Spain, I was met to a king’s welcome. Carmen picked me up at the bus terminal and we went for a short joy ride in the city. When Nicu said someone would pick me up I was worried about my big luggage. She came in an X5, accompanied by her beautiful daughter, so it all fit in perfectly. And if that wasn’t enough, I drove the 80 km trip to Nicu’s house in a 2 seater, mid-engine convertible roadster, on the Mediterranean coast. Would have loved a picture there, but all my gear was in the X5 I was chasing…
Nicu lives in a beautiful Spanish country house, just off the Med coast. Accompanied by his 8 dogs, his girlfriend, a collection of his paintings and his own rock and roll hall of fame, they live a beautiful quiet life. Nothing on the outside would give away the fact that an internationally renowned rock singer lives there, although Madonna’s villa is only a short drive away.
He welcomed me with an open heart and house. I found more warmth and down-to-earth no-nonsense in his family than one could find in most of the todays so-called artists. For two days we lived like brothers, eating, drinking, having fun. It might have helped that I also am a vivid biker and rocker. He even offered his bike for a ride… but there’s something about one’s bike… you just don’t do. Bikers know what I’m talking about.
Next day we drove around in his small 4×4 checking out all the scenic roads around his home. It made it easy for me to understand why he chose Spain over Germany. Motorbike heaven, all year long! He even took me to see the most eastern point of Spain and a gorgeous cave which gives birth to the longest underground underwater tunnel system in Europe, over 40 km long.
Being treated like a king, and having such a blast, It was easy to forget the reason for my visit. Especially after a long day full of amazing stories seemingly pulled out of a Hollywood adventure movie.
The first shoot was placed right in Nicu’s small studio on the ground floor. A shrine dedicated to Phoenix if you will, filled with posters of old and new, pictures, awards and several golden records. We both had a small set up to do – I was setting up the Quadra light system, Nicu was placing the amplifiers in the right spot. Then we swept the dust off the guitars and amps and were ready to go.
Nicu started jamming and it soon felt as if we were one. It was hypnotic, hearing him play less than 2m away, his guitar screaming thru’ the old but beautiful Marshall sound system and his voice topping it over. And when it all started to fall into place he played “In umbra marelui URSS” – one of the most iconic Romanian rock songs, describing his grief and pain, endured during the communist regime. It was such personal and ground shaking experience. Goosebumps set in right away and I found myself humming away to the music. Towards the end, I had to fight away the tears and concentrate on the camera to keep taking pictures.
It was so personal and powerful, words cannot describe. And mind you, I’m forty years his junior.
For the second picture, I asked Nicu to take me to one of his favorite places – a small clearing in the woods right under the nearby mountaintop. On the one side there was the beautiful scenery of the coastline, on the other the rocky mountaintops nearby. Getting there was a small adventure in itself. A small narrow winding road led us up the mountain. Here and there I could see remains of car wreck. Apparently this road is notorious for it’s narrow and strong curves, many paid the price.
Once there, it was easy to understand why it was one of his favorite spots. And to top it all up, there was an abandoned swimming pool right there, for us to use.
So I once again started building the small setup. Wind was blowing quite hard, so I couldn’t use any modifiers on the flash. But the Quadra, with its standard deflector did the job just right. Nicu thought we had to draw current from the nearby old building – he was amazed to learn that the small and powerful Quadra was battery operated.
The jamming started once more. Working with the sun as a backlight and the Quadra as main, we got some interesting flares, lights and shadows.
All good thinks must come to an end. We soon had to pack up and go. Nicu was quite amazed by the small but complete studio setup powered by the Quadra and packed in the HPRC case. I must say, I was too. The case did the very best of jobs at protecting the flashes, despite being thrown around on buses and cars, eating up all the pot-holes in Europe, or holding Nicu’s weight. The Quadra did it once more. I always carry a spare battery with me, but I never seem to need it. It was the same this time. Shooting almost 400 frames, with single and double head, and I still couldn’t drain the first battery…
The trip home was going to be long, but to ease the pain, it started with a 2h scenic ride on the coast. Sitting on the train, I had time to think back on my unique experience.
Thank you Nicu for having me. It was a groundbreaking experience!