Samoilă Mârza and his photos

Period: approx. 1918 | Previous story | Next story

The photos taken at the National Assembly in Alba Iulia are widely known and have historical significance. Their author, Samoilă Mârza, who lived in Alba Iulia for a long time, is less well-known to the public. His activity was diverse and interesting, and was not limited to the photos made during the Great National Assembly.

Samoilă Mârza was born on 18 September 1886, in Galtiu. He graduated six years of gymnasium study and, from 1909, was an apprentice of the photographer Iainek, in Sibiu. His photographic work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. He was commissioned in the autumn of 1914, and assigned to the photo-topographic service of the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was sent to the fronts in Galitia, Latvia and, finally, Italy, where he arrived in 1916. During this period, he shot photos of his comrades, as well as portraits of himself dressed in military uniform. Toward the end of 1918, Samoilă Mârza left Trieste for Vienna, together with more than five thousand Romanian soldiers. On 14 November, in Vienna, with the support of Romanian officers and soldiers, the Romanian Military Council was established. On that occasion, the Romanian tricolour flag was consecrated. Mârza’s activity as photographer of the Unification began with three photos taken in the barracks in Vienna. He came to Transylvania together with his comrades, travelling from Vienna to Zagreb-Belgrade-Timișoara. The shorter route Vienna-Budapest-Arad was, at that time, too dangerous due to the presence of the Hungarian Army. He arrived in Alba Iulia four days before the Great National Assembly. He shot three photos of the participants at the assembly from Galtiu, then, on 1 December 1918, around noon, he took six more photos: the famous images from the Great Assembly. It was a dark day, but favourable for photography, since the clouds filtered the light.

Afterwards Samoilă Mârza made an inspired marketing decision, which did not bring him a particularly big profit, but allowed his photos to become publicly known. They started to be reproduced in school handbooks, magazines and treatises, thus making their author famous. During early 1919, he produced an album with the title The Great Unification in Alba Iulia in figures and offered copies to King Ferdinand I, Nicolae Iorga, Iuliu Maniu, Ion I. C. Brătianu, and the French general, Henri Mathias Berthelot. In compensation, Samoilă Mârza was appointed provider of the Royal Household of Romania and was given an unlimited travel permit for the Romanian railways. From this moment onward, he was present at all events and national manifestations: the royal family’s to Alba Iulia and surrounding areas in 1919; the festivities celebrating the centenary of the birth of Avram Iancu in Țebea, Vidra de Sus and Cluj (1924); the Astra festivities; and the Unification celebration on 20 May 1929. He became famous and had access to many political and cultural figures. From Prime Minister Ion I. C. Brătianu, Mârza obtained financial backing to finalise the painting of the Coronation Cathedral, which had been abandoned by painter Costin Petrescu.

The professional career of Samoilă Mârza thus went through several stages. He was an apprentice photographer, a war photographer and a provider of the royal household. He continued to work in this field after the beginning of the Communist regime, but was no longer shooting photos at major public events. He was the first photographer from Alba County to visit the villages and cities and to take photos of people wearing traditional dress or participating in village festivities, and his photos of daily life represent important historical and ethnographic documents. His archive also contains 17 photos of himself at different moments in his life. It is possible the photos taken from short distance are self-portraits.

Mârza never married, but there were reports that, while young, he had an Austrian lover. He rented a flat in Alba Iulia, on Vasile Alecsandri (Șurilor), no. 54. In old age, hardships intensified his religious inclinations, and he attended neo-Protestant churches, eventually becoming a preacher in the Apuseni Mountains.

In 1967, Mârza wished to buy a new camera to use during the celebration of fifty years of Unification. He sold his old camera, an Ernemann Heag VI Tropen, produced in Dresda around 1900, along with his glass photographic frames, to the National Museum of Unification in Alba Iulia for 5000 Lei. The acquisition was made by Gheorghe Anghel. He then printed a new edition of the photos taken in 1918, of which one copy was handed to Nicolae Ceaușescu by George Homoștean, Prime Secretary of Alba County Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. Although significant events were expected for the celebration of fifty years from the Unification, the photographer did not live to document it. He died on 19 December 1967 and was buried Maieri Cemetery in Alba Iulia. In 2003, a bust was unveiled in Galtiu in his memory, made by sculptor Narcis Borteș. (N.B.)

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