OZB People: 10 Questions for Matei Buta

1. Please tell us about who you are and what you do.

 I’m a portrait photographer based in Bucharest, Romania. I’m also a biker, skier, hiker and hobby carpenter.

So, in general I take portraits for a living. I love it so much that i’m obsessed about it. But when I’m not doing that, I ride my motorcycle and travel the world, or go to the mountains, be it winter or summer. My love of the mountains has been with me since I was a kid going to summer/winter camps. Now I organise some of my own and take the kids skiing or hiking. Oh yes, and lately, (with the isolation and all) I’ve had time to develop a new passion towards carpentry. 

Matei isn’t just Romania’s foremost portrait photographers, he’s also a talented carpenter

2. Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place?

It all came to me naturally. The love for photography sparked when I was in high-school. At that time, my parents had a old soviet-made SLR. A big hunk of clicking metal I was not allowed to touch. When the time came and my folks got a point and shoot, I was finally able to pick up the old Zenit. That’s how I started playing with a camera. It was more the curiosity of the device at first. But it slowly grew on me. During my university years I had a job at a big IT firm which allowed me to get my first proper DSLR camera. That’s when I slowly started doing small photo gigs. I also did several photography courses to broaden my knowledge. Eventually, at the end of one such year-long course the teacher told me I could go work on a cruise ship. That’s how I got to apply and then go to work on the largest cruise ship at that time – the Oasis of the Seas. It changed my perspective forever. When I came back to Romania I was hellbent on starting my own portrait business.  I’ve been working at that ever since.

Photographer Matei Buta

3. What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now?

Well, with the way things have been going lately, I hope I’ll be in business. Joking aside, these are tough times for small niche businesses, especially in Romania. If you would have asked me this question in Jan, it would have been a different story. The last few months have shown us that, no matter how good and appreciated you are at your craft, it can all go away in an instance. So I just hope I’ll be able to keep doing what I love doing, without compromise and I hope I’ll find other people that appreciate it too. 

4. How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally?

Well, this is rather simple. Lockdown and social distancing has put my business on halt. You can not take portraits if you can’t meet people and get close to them. The only redeeming feature was that, I had a lot of time on my hands so I could take some online classes I always was too busy to take. 

On a personal level, lockdown wasn’t so bad. As luck would have it, it started right when my family and I were visiting our small village home near Bran. So we decided to just stay there. Having all the extra time, I did a lot of much needed work on the house. Once that was done, I took up carpentry as a hobby.  I started with some Adirondack chairs that quickly got viral … Since then I’ve built a birdhouse, a bed and now I’m working on my new cottage kitchen. 

Serban Pavlu – Relu Oncescu in the wonderfully dark Romanian HBO series Umbre

5. What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania. What are the highs and the lows in your opinion? 

 I’ve travelled quite a lot round Romania and I must say, the single biggest drawback is the lack of education. Everything else would  fall into line if we would have this one thing nailed. There are obviously some exceptions and that’s where you see the beautiful Romanian initiatives that we’ve all grown to appreciate and love. But they are few and far in-between. 

Bucharest on the other hand is a funny place. It’s bustling and dynamic, something is always happening here. It’s where most of the business and culture is. But the price to pay is ridiculously high. Life in other cities is often quieter, cleaner and more satisfying. But, without all the opportunities Bucharest has to offer. 

6. What is your must do/must visit/favorite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large?

Ivan Patzaichin

I don’t know about Bucharest… Sure there are some important landmarks, but every big city has them. For someone traveling from abroad, it might just be more of the same. It’s not like we have world class attractions in Bucharest. 

In Romania on the other hand, I would probably take someone in the deep country-side. There are still some magical places where time seems to have stood still. The Carpathian mountain range are also quite spectacular and generally much wilder than the national parks in the west. And obviously, the Danube Delta is a must for someone who likes water…

7. What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget?

Doru Trascau

I’ve never thought of tops… I’m also a big mood-swinger (if such a thing exists) so I can’t guarantee that these will be the same in a couple of days. 

    book:    “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig.

    film:      “Miracle in Cell number 7”, directed by Mehmet Ada Öztekin

    series:  “Unorthodox” (Netflix miniseries) and “Chernobyl” (HBO miniseries) – simply because I was a kid back then and had to take Iodine pills.

    app:     Snapseed – best mobile photo processing software

    gadget: Kindle – because I can carry a library on my motorcycle or in my backpack

8. If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person?

This is a difficult questions because I’ve worked on a great piece by Decat o Revista last year about some of the best restaurants in Romania and had the great pleasure to eat in some of them. Some have stayed with me and I’ve visited them again and again. If I’d have to narrow it down to one I’d say it definitely had to be the Syndicat Gourmet in Sibiu, with chef Ioan Bebeșelea or in Brașov, Bistro de l’Arte with chef Oana Coantă. 

As to whom I’d take out for dinner, that would probably be Annie Leibovitz or Joel Meyerowitz – though they say you should never meet your idols… 

9. Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it.

Professional portrait photography with passion.

10. Describe your Romania in one word.


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