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The photographers of Alba Iulia

In modern age Alba Iulia, there were individuals who cared deeply about the visual memory of the city, and they left evidence of their passion in the form of photographs. Stimulated by their thirst for beauty and concern for the preservation of images of the past, the photographers succeeded, through their pictures, to convey the image of the old city. The first stage of this project, Alba Iulia – a history in images of the city through its streets and monuments is based on two important collections of old photos, held by the National Museum of Unification, the Archive of the Roman-Catholic Archbishopric of Alba Iulia and the Municipality of Alba Iulia. The images were created by two passionate photographers, Adalbert Cserni and Arthur Bach who covered seven decades of Alba Iulia’s visual history.

Adalbert Cserni (1842-1916) entered the collective memory as a professor at the Catholic high school in Alba Iulia; he was a naturalist, archaeologist, historian, numismatist, geologist, astronomer and photographer. A complex personality, he was also the first director of the local museum and is still regarded as one of the most important specialists especially in ancient history and archaeology.

Cserni earned his doctorate at the University of Cluj on 20 April 1882 with a thesis entitled Ideas concerning the changes of the surface of Earth. From 1880, he became interested in archaeology. He was one of the founders of the Society of History, Archaeology and Natural Sciences of Lower Alba County (1887) and collaborated with the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum and Archaeologiai értesitö (Archaeological Papers). One of his most important works was The History of Lower Alba County in the Roman Age (1901), which drew together and interpreted the results of all his archeological excavations. For posterity, equally important was his passion for photography. He made the earliest photos of the city and its everyday life, dating from the last decade of nineteenth century, using the technical equipment of that age. Photographic glass plates (790 pieces), as well as photos on paper or celluloid (461 pieces), offer images of archaeological excavations, monuments and everyday details of life in Alba Iulia around 1900. There is a wide variety of subjects, ranging from religious vestments, family life poses, portraits, images of the former museum of the city and snapshots from his home and courtyard.

While Adalbert Cserni was a highly academic personality, Arthur Bach (1894-1979) was a professional photographer who took over the trade from his father, Karl Bach. Inheriting the workshop located in the center of the lower city, close to the narrow gauge railway station, he worked there until the end of his life. He left us the other rich collection of photographs which allow us to see how the former city looked. Bach’s work was continued by his wife, Irina (maiden name Fekete), and daughter, Heda, until the 1980s when their workshop was demolished during Ceaușescu’ systematization. The Arthur Bach Collection contains 266 photos—189 glass plates and 77 celluloid—taken between 1930 and 1950. Alba Iulia municipality purchased the collection from the Bach Family, who moved to Germany. The subjects varied from general views of Alba Iulia, Abrud, Aiud, Blaj, Zlatna, Hunedoara, Orăștie, Uioara, Întregalde, Brad, Țebea and Geoagiu Băi, to natural features such as Cheile Gălzii, Cheile Râmețului, Scărișoara and Huda lui Papară, as well as buildings, houses, markets, parks (Lumea Nouă), historical monuments, and events and traditions such as the Girls’ Fair on Găina Mountain. (L.S.)