2020 year in review

by Alin Popescu

I'm a creative that love to blend and tell the story as it happens without interfering and so, to create memories for people to cherish their entire lives.

December 31, 2020

2020 was a strange year for many, and I’m sure no one expected it to turn out as it did, but I’m not writing this post to complain about 2020. Instead, I’m writing it as a reminder to myself that if you are focused on what you’re doing, you can achieve great things, no matter “the noise” around you.

So how was it for me?

We moved to Sweden in October 2019 and the first months were not that great for me personally, but I promised to myself starting 2020 I will do my best to achieve something here, even if I knew I start from zero.

I’ve left Romania with a great client network and also after almost 5 years as country’s Sony Europe Imaging Ambassador. It wasn’t easy to break the ice, not knowing a single person in the city, except the Romanian community of doctors, my wife’s colleagues. But I wanted more, I wanted to get in contact with the swedes, to grow a network and find possible clients for me as a media creator. How could I do that?

Hemmavid – the brochure from Varnamo Kommun

“Do you have an idea?”

2020 was the centenary year for Varnamo so it was planned to be big, full of events, both indoors and outdoors: 100 of them. So the officials were looking for ideas from the citizens. I’ve seen this brochure as soon as it went out in November 2019, but I had no idea how I could get involved, even if I wanted to!

The idea

Then one day it hit me: how can I better get to know people other than photographing them? So I’ve sent a message to the email published in the brochure, telling Maria that I want to photograph 100 people living in Varnamo, to create a small history page of its inhabitants: we will post weekly the portraits over the year, and when Varnamo has its B-day in November, we will have a big 100 portraits exhibition. The motto of the city inspired me too: “Varnamo – where people meets”.

I got no answer in a “timely” manner. I’ve got to learn this year that things in Sweden doesn’t go as quickly as we are used in Eastern Europe, a quick answer: yes or no. I’m still getting used to this, that things need to go through couple of “möte” (meetings 🙂 ), but in the end I’ve learned to really appreciate this: this is why Sweden is where it is today, because they don’t do things in a hurry.

In the mean time, I wrote also a mail to the local photo-club and finally got a friendly answer, being invited to their monthly meeting, last of 2019, when the Photographer of the Year was announced. I got to meet a nice group of senior photographers, both hobbyist and professionals and I decided to become a member, at least to have someone to hang with at least once a month, on their meetings. My Swedish language was at a level I could barely understand 30-40% of what their were saying, but it didn’t stop me.

Fast forward two months and I find myself almost hopeless, with no real job contacts, even if I’ve attended many public events in the city, photographing them and posting on my Facebook profile, local groups, following all the city’s posts and pages. Then, one night I see a post from Ditt Varnamo (your Varnamo) page by Adam Svensson saying to book yourself a free digital meeting if you are a new immigrant and want to have your questions answered. I had to present myself and tell him a little bit about myself and what I have already tried since moving to Varnamo:

  • failed an interview to work as a real estate photographer (didn’t get the “why not” reason, because I was called back and, as you remember, my Swedish level was shit, especially on the phone :p). But is was a No, maybe later.
  • started a page/blog about what’s happening inVarnamo (you’re reading it :p)
  • attended the local photo-club
  • wrote an email to the Kommun to propose an idea to photograph 100 people for the centenary …

And here I got stopped by Adam.

“It was your idea?” Yes Sir!

Then I got to learn he was part of the metting where the ideas sent in by the citizens were discussed and mine was really appreciated and taken into consideration to be approved. Best news since moving to Sweden! The start was not easy, no one wanted to be photographed by a strange looking foreigner stopping them on the street and not even speaking correct Swedish (I’ve tried approaching them with English too, but it was worse :p). But Adam helped me with the first shits and from here …

Fast forward August 2020 and all 100 portraits were ready, covering a 360 view of the people living or being an active part of Varnamo. In the end it was like a rolling stone, getting tons of messages of people wanting to be part of the project. Newspapers wrote about me and my idea, the radio interviewed me, and the word of mouth did wonders. Varnamo 100 project was a hit! And I got to know a lot of people and create an amazing network of possible clients. Here you can see all the photos in their digital version, since the exhibition is postponed due to current circumstances (the pandemic). All the prints are ready, waiting to be hanged on the walls.

But to survive, you need some money right?

I will not encourage anyone moving to Sweden as a family with kids, unless at least one of them has a signed contract in advance. We would have not moved here if it was not for my wife being a doctor and getting a job after a 2 year-long process (remember those “möte”? :D). So I was lucky I didn’t have to wash dishes in a restaurant to survive (I prefer cooking, but in a restaurant you have to wash dishes first :p).

So I was able to focus on my skills and how to show others what I’m capable of, in order to get some money out of it, right?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve attended almost all the public events in the city. One of those was the Open Doors event at the local school of arts (Kulturskola). Was attending this with my 10 y.o daughter since she wanted to continue piano, drawing and ballet classes. At the entrance I get to meet the school director, Andreas, a man I have met on our first trip to Varnamo, back in march 2019, when we came to see the city and so my wife could sign the employment contact with the local hospital. He remembered me:

Hej, I remember you! You’re the photographer, right? We need to talk, we have a photo and film course here in the school and we need someone to teach it to the kids

Second best news since in Sweden. Fast forward to August 2020 again, and I’m on a signed contract with the school of arts, not only for teaching but to do all the digital media they need. As you can see, August was a great month, when we also bought the house and a new car, electric of course, since we live in the most nature friendly country ever!

Working in the school, means I’m employed by the Kommun and I’ve got a lot of jobs from them also. Mostly filming, since everything moved to online this crazy year, but can’t complain myself.

I’ve also started my own digital media company, to be able to work with private customers and companies. One of the biggest clients I’ve worked with was Sparkling magazine, a local life-style guide, printed quarterly and as you may have already guessed, I’ve met the owner during my Varnamo 100 project, when I’ve photographed him on the Golf course.

I’ve never hoped to pass the borders of Varnamo, but somehow, thanks to the great network I became part of, I had the chance to work also for the county, the Region Jönköping Lan, on two different occasions, two cultural projects with great artists!

Not two weeks before the end of 2020, I had the pleasure to be reminded of my first contact with the local photo-club, the selection of Photographer of the Year. This year, was my turn to receive the title!

So, in the end, 2020 was not that bad, against all the odds. I could see the rainbow!



2020's summary

#Varnamo100 project (February – August)

Jobs for Varnamo Kommun

  • Short films for internal use with Kommun’s Chef Ulf Svensson
  • COVID19 awareness video campaign, spring
  • Bybibbla proposal – a self-service library for the small villages around Varnamo
  • COVID19 poster, billboard and print campaign, autumn
  • Varnamo library book-tips films

Jobs for Varnamo Kulturskola

  • Kulturskola was knows to have many concerts over the year, but these times forced us to move to online and do either live shows or recordings for the concerts
  • Filmed students scholarships
  • Filmed a musical with the students attending the arts department in FiGy highschool
  • Filmed two full concerts of teachers playing instruments, singing and dancing
  • Filmed the biggest production (at least for me) to date: the Varnamo Lucia 2020 (21.000 views to date)
  • Filmed other’s school’s shows and concerts
  • and many more …

Jobs for Sparkling Magazine

  • started working on the last two editions of the year
  • cover photo on the last one and plenty of inner photos: documentary, studio, fashion, car photography

Region Jönköping Lan

  • Dance bench – a project where artists performs on the city’s benches (pieces of art themselves)
  • Andetag i Skaftarp – a music/dance film performed by Moa & Co for Kulturfest, a digital regional project

Photographer of the Year

After winning either first, second or third places in all 4 competitions of Varnamo’s photo-club in 2020, I’ve managed to gather the most points of all competitors, and thus winning the big title.

A nice way to finish this year!

A big thank you goes to all the people that helped, trusted and supported me in this endeavour!

Happy new 2021! 

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