Winners Exposed: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi

14th May 2013

© Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi, Romania, Overall Youth Photographer of the Year, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards

“Be ambitious and never give up,” 19-year-old Youth Photographer of the Year Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi says. “The world is in front of you, all you have to do is to be open to new experiences and to explore it.” 

The second-year photography student from Romania has high expectations for herself; she sees her win at this year’s awards as just the beginning.  Attending Portsmouth University in England, Dragoi entered the field to transform her passion to reality and find herself in the process. “I can confirm that photography has been a fantastic way to grow up fast and to get to know myself. Photography is a reflective experience, a form of self-knowledge,” she says.

“I want to make my voice heard by all people around the world, by using photography as an instrument,” she says of her goals. “I want to use photography as a main tool to get to understand the world and the people next to me.” She says she wishes to showcase her home country through photography to spotlight the “marvellous places that this country hides.”

Her winning image from this year’s awards does just that, depicting a mask-dance called the “Dance of the Bear” in the Moldavia region of Romania.

“Being passionate in going to different events and learning about the world and its traditions and origins, I started off by learning about my own country,” she says. “Romania is a rich country when it comes to traditions and superstitions. Modern Romanians only keep a few of them, but many of the old traditions can be discovered in remote areas of the country.”

Diverse, colourful and rich in symbols and meanings, the New Year’s Eve traditions are some of Romania’s finest. They play with pre-Christian rituals and underline the predominant agrarian lifestyle of the past, she explains.  The highpoint of these traditions are the mask-dances – magical ceremonials of death and rebirth. “’Dance of the bear’ is one of the most spectacular mask-dances,” she says, “an iconic animal for the forests of Romania.”

The mask-dance tradition aims to purify and fertilise the soil for the next season, and the costumes used for the occasion have been preserved for hundreds of years. 

Upon learning her image of the ritual had landed her the overall winning title, Dragoi said, “I was in shock and I still have the same feeling.” 

Her image is currently on display at Somerset House, London as part of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition through 12 May 2013.  For more of her work, visit her official website here and visit her WPO member profile here.