The story of Felicia and Felix is one of playful and intense beauty. The 23-year-old photographer Felicia Simion and her little cousin Felix built it together, from each side of the camera. In a small village in the south of Romania, Felicia followed the little boy over three summers (2013–2016), searching for the raw taste of her own childhood in his daily games. Felicia finds her younger self in Felix’s natural amazement. Far from the hurry of the present and the crowds of the city, The Playground is a black and white canvas of tenderness and nostalgia.
Fisheye: How did you start working on this project?
Felicia Simion: The project started with one or two photos in 2012, but the core images were taken between 2013 and 2016. I watched Felix grow between age four and six. In the beginning they were just random photos of a kid. Gradually, I began paying a little more attention to his childhood games and actions, feeling that I should seize this moment of his life and document a period of playfulness, spontaneity and change. I was living in Bucharest, while he lived in a small town near my mother’s birth village. I used to go there to meet him during the holidays. For me, those trips were an escape from a crowded, suffocating environment, but also a return to the place of my own childhood. For him, that place was just a large playground where he could come up with new adventures and enjoy what trees, dusty roads and clear blue skies could offer him.
Which elements of your own childhood did this experience make you recall?
As a child, I spent a few years at my grandparents’ home in southern Romania. The years went by harmoniously, with me befriending everyone and everything, from old locals to cats, dogs and cows. My grandparents’ house is at the end of the village, and it has a beautiful view of the forest, the church and the hills. I remember the smell of chamomile, bringing water from the fountain, the mushrooms my uncle and I would pick after a good rain. All these small things grew big in the valleys of my mind. Much of my childhood was similar to Felix’s, from the absence of technology to the dress-up games and handmade swings in our courtyard.
To what extent did moving to an urban environment impact your life?
Having lived in the city for more than 17 years, I guess the change has come gradually, so now I am accustomed to the urban environment and its ups and downs. However, I am still incredibly influenced by the countryside, and I try to travel there as often as possible. I feel lucky to live in a country where you only need to drive 20 miles away from the traffic to see the Milky Way at night. I feel lucky I can reach the mountains and the sea by traveling for only two hours. This is one of the reasons that made me stay in Romania and try to do the best I can with what I have.
What role did the camera play in the rediscovery of your childhood?
The camera was my loyal companion; it was the “eye” that gave me courage and freedom to document my cousin’s childhood. I was a happy photographer, because Felix loved being in front of the camera and getting all the attention during the project. When he heard of an exhibition with his photos in Paris, he was so excited that he told all of his kindergarten colleagues that he was famous and he’d appear in magazines.
Why did you become a photographer, Felicia?
To be honest, I think I became a photographer because I had to; there simply was such a strong inner voice telling me to do so, that I could not resist. I don’t know where it came from—perhaps a place I cannot access myself—but I know I have to keep it there and follow it fearlessly.
Images from “The Playground” © Felicia Simion