Style Talk | Meet Lavinia Cernau

Golden light, documenting the mundane, and a love story with the Mediterranean 

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photo by Lavinia Cernau

It’s through Issue No 2 of Yolanda Edwards' Yolo Journal that we first laid our eyes on a Lavinia Cernau photograph

On a double-page introducing a story shot in Istria, we found a perfectly balanced composition expressing the exquisite nonchalance associated with a day at the beach. The light was amazing, as were all the details you noticed when digging into the image. The bunch of kids jumping from the dock, the big house overlooking the bay, and the yellow, creamy umbrella acting as if it were here to bring freshness to the house and the kids all together, everything was screaming summer bliss. In the distance, a few languished constructions forming a tiny seaside resort and rich, inspiring vegetation made of pines and palm trees completed the picture. The shades of blue from the sea and sky combined perfectly with the faded earthy tones of the houses and the various green shades of the trees in a globally subdued composition, telling the story of immemorial times where kids always used to jump from this very dock.

Navigating this story we came upon a series of sea-focused photographic compositions putting a very specific emphasis on mundane moments suspended in time bathed in a very unique golden, highly cinematic light.

We fell for it right away and immediately contacted Lavinia to share the love, then went to her online destination to discover more of her work, always bathed in that ubiquitous golden light.

Stunned by what we saw, we decided to invite Lavinia to tell her story in our Style talks series and know more about her background, vision, and how she sees one of her predilected subject of study, the Mediterranean.

As such, we are very happy to introduce Lavinia Cernau in this new issue of our Style Talk series.

It’s now, in the Journal.

Hello Lavinia, thank you very much for taking the time to sit with us. We're great fans of your work so it really is a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on, I’m excited to be sharing with you.

You're originally from Transylvania, Romania, and still live there today. How was growing up there, and how is living there today? I’m Transylvanian born and bred and whenever I’m not traveling somewhere for an assignment, I’m happy to call this realm of magic home (no wonder Prince Charles has bought several mansions here and is eager to visit every year). I think I’ve always been more of a countryside girl as I spent a great deal of my childhood chasing ducks on fields and blowing daffodils. At the time, I may have not appreciated it that much, but it’s with a different set of eyes that I’m seeing things in these fast-pacing days. I’m still really drawn to the countryside and whenever I want to escape the city, that’s my place to go and connect with nature, really feel the spell of every season, and just gather my thoughts. 

How does it influence your work as a photographer? I think all artists, no matter their craft, end up distilling their past and obviously their experiences in their art. So for me, I’ve found I first kind of visualize colors that make up a scene, specifically warmer, darker colors. Sundown is particularly beautiful and magical to me as this time of day reminds me of my dusty countryside sunsets when everyone would gather and share what they’ve been up to, how’s their potato crop doing, how many kittens were born the night before – so I guess I ended up unthinkingly translating into my photography this kind of slow living.

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photos by Lavinia Cernau for Linea Carta

You were originally working as a translator and photography was just a hobby; how, and when, did you decide to switch and become a full-time photographer? Yes, I have always loved languages and my background is actually Translation Studies, and so I did try my hand at being a translator but soon found photography opened up to me and it was this whole other universe that I began exploring. My first assignment was to document my experience at one of the most amazingly chic hideaways – the Aman Sveti Stefan resort in Montenegro. I loved it so much I thought to myself that’s what I wanted to do from then on. That was almost four years ago.

Would you guide us through your journey as a travel and lifestyle photographer since then? I went on shooting various lifestyle brands – mostly still-life visuals followed by personal trips to Mediterranean countries all the while documenting it all, obviously, and sharing my work online. People kept subscribing and appreciating my imagery to which I felt and still feel very connected to this day and then things ensued naturally.

I got to document some amazing creative retreats in some truly wonderful locations but most of all, I like to think I managed to translate these retreats’ spirit and ethos through my photographic vision. That’s ultimately my goal as a photographer. To help brands translate their values into visuals. It’s funny how I keep using the term “translate”, I guess I’m still working as a translator, only in the visual arts field. 

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photos by Lavinia Cernau, respectively for Beautiful Nomad and Linea Carta

Your passion for the Mediterranean, which is one of the main subjects of your work, is quite obvious. Do you remember what was the first contact you had with it? My first contact with the Mediterranean was actually on its chic French coast – somewhere close to the Italian border. We had the most amazing time over there, soaking up a pebble beach with the clearest, dark emerald waters I’ve ever seen. My best swim too, followed by a cheap sandwich bought at a bodega and the juiciest ripe figs straight from the tree. Bliss! 

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photos by Lavinia Cernau for Beautiful Nomad

The Mediterranean lifestyle, beyond food and a certain sense of nonchalance, is mostly shaped around a deep, cultural relationship to the sea element; what would you say is the main difference between how the Italians, French, Spanish, Greeks, and Croatians approach it? I mean they’re all so very different yet so alike in a way, right? Croatia has a laid-back feel to its beaches similar in a way to Italy and I personally relish la dolce vita and am charmed by the slow living sea scenes in The Talented Mr. Ripley (I must have watched this movie tenths times); yet I’m equally enchanted with the more emphatic way of the Greeks. Greece is raw and beautiful, also, there’s no denying the chic, more composed means of the French while the Spanish side is all about the energy and the sun. To me, the Mediterranean is a love affair with the sweet sun-kissed, relaxed, slow, and somewhat aristocratic atmosphere that shuffles over it. 

Your work is bathed in a yellow, golden light with a really subtle, somewhat faded yet vibrant vibe to it; how do you achieve it? It’s a constant process, to be honest. Since all of my work is shot on digital, I’m after a cinematic feel that makes people stop and stare. And maybe even ask questions.

Your approach to photography makes the most trivial things - taking a sunbath, swimming into pristine waters, reading a book - as epic moments. What inspires you in the triviality of things? I guess I’m drawn to documenting the mundane – and to me, the simplicity of the prosaic is unbeatable. The simplest scenes can hide so much and also make you wonder about the subjects.

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photo by Lavinia Cernau for Beautiful Nomad

You shot a story about Istria - through which we initially discovered your work - for Yolanda EdwardsYolo Journal Issue No 2 recently. Would you tell us more about that very unique story? Yes, it’s featured in the second issue of Yolo Journal, I was thrilled when Yolanda asked me to contribute as I know she’s after stories with a personal and honest touch – and this was just that: visuals of a personal trip to the Istrian coast, a region imbued with the understated beauty and the laid-back charm of Austro-Hungarian villas set alongside idyllic beaches.

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Istria photographed by Lavinia Cernau as featured in Yolanda Edwards' Yolo Journal Issue No 2  

Beyond Yolo, you've contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, Suitcase Magazine, and shot for Aman, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Phryia, and Beautiful Nomad among others; how do you approach commissioned work as opposed to your most personal ones? I’ve been so lucky as to have worked with people that completely trusted my vision and allowed me full creative approach when shooting; that said, when working on campaigns there’s quite an amount of planning, scouting locations, creating mood-boards and color palettes and in general work closely with the client to make sure we’re ending up with the best visual story or representation.

Among your most personal work, we're particularly fans of the creative retreats series where you capture the essence of simple, earthy, and most sincere moments bathed in that unique light you craft so beautifully; what makes a great story to you? Actually, as personal as they may seem, those are commissioned assignments – and most fun, I should add! Thank you for your words, so happy to know!

Documenting retreats may just be my favorite photographic job as they are the perfect opportunity for participants – women mostly – to let go and fully enjoy every instant which makes my job that much easier. It enables me to capture sincere, honest frames that reflect the joy and fulfillment they feel, which is absolutely amazing to witness. I’ve worked with Beautiful Nomad and Linea Carta, both wonderful lifestyle brands that have put everything in creating the most memorable experiences. I came out so enriched – both on a professional and personal level!

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

© Photo by Lavinia Cernau for Beautiful Nomad 

We're in the middle of a global crisis that questions so many things in the way we live. What do you think will be the first and immediate consequences of this crisis in the photography industry? We’re experiencing such crazy times! From my point of view, there will be less movement, less traveling, and more getting creative in your own ‘backyard’. I believe people will be on the search – now more than ever – for honest, heartfelt images. Visuals that tell the story as is, no embellishments, just truth. I think we’re all going to be wanting straightforwardness in all activity domains.

What will it change in the way you approach what you do? Now more than ever I’ll be focusing on helping and promoting slow living brands, ethical and sustainable; but also focus on the documentary side of photography. 

How do you think brands and clients will respond to it? I think a reconsideration of ethos and value are in order – and more focused on people and the environment.

As already said, your color palettes are pretty amazing; what's your relation to colors? I’m drawn to warmer tones as you pointed out so well, it must be the light that I always chase that engages me in telling warm-toned stories. I also believe that you can tell a visual story through color. That said, I do love an honest black and white frame from time to time, I find it to be more dramatic, soulful.

Les Belles Heures Style talk, Lavinia Cernau

Istria photographed by Lavinia Cernau as featured in Yolanda Edwards' Yolo Journal Issue No 2

How would you describe your own style? Ahaha, that’s a hard one – I’d say chic tomboy with a feminine (and utilitarian at times) touch.

Who are the photographers, and artists, that inspire you the most? Bruce Weber, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Slim Aarons, Herb Ritts, Matisse, Constantin Brancusi.

How would you describe LBH in 3 words? Timeless, chic, elegant. I just love your scarves!

Who would you like to read in our next Style talk series? I’d love to read about Olivia Lopez. 

Thank you so much, Lavinia, it has been lovely. It was a true pleasure chatting with you, thank you!

You can find more about Lavinia Cernau's work on Lavinia' online destination and Instagram account.

Les Belles Heures is a young Maison revamping scarves as a cool, daily accessory through savoir-faire, craftsmanship and minimalist design focused on color. 

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