Take me on an exploration, I asked. I’ll take you to Romania, she replied.
Dora Dc is a very inspiring woman. She’s from Sheffield UK, very near the Peak District National Park, where she loves to climb and explore the many opportunities the surroundings give her.
We actually met on Instagram: we are “padpals”, as we like to call ourselves. For this interview, she decided to visit her grandparents’ home, the one where her grandad grew up, in a small town in Romania in the midst of mountains and enchanted woods.
She has spent here most of her holidays during her childhood, but she hasn’t come back in years. Maybe because of a flood that invaded everything, maybe for fear that reality wouldn’t match her beautiful memories anymore. “I was here when the flooding happened. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life”, she said looking around, images in her eyes.
“Was it scary?”, I asked. “No, not really. I don’t remember being scared for some reason,” Dora replies. I guess it must have felt like seeing something you love very much change drastically, to the point you almost don’t recognise it anymore. The traits you know so well are there, but vibes are just completely different.
The place we are staying is a lovely old house, with a beautiful wooden veranda. Dora says the kitchen is her favourite room: “it’s so basic, but feels really welcoming and it always smells of fire and nice food”. Ah…grandparents’ delight!
Outside, there’s a huge garden, with thriving apple trees, also known as Dora’s favourite hiding place when it was time to eat…despite the smell of nice food, a child is always a child, and that’s probably when her love for climbing found its first roots.
In the summer, apple trees would play Newton with their lunches. “We would always eat outside unless it was raining, and apples used to fall from the trees and straight in our soups, or whatever yummy food my grandma would make with local veg. Or sometimes they’d hit our heads!”.
A longing for belonging
When you explore nature with Dora, it becomes very clear: it’s not a place to visit, it’s home. You see it in her eyes, you see it in her work. You hear it in her words and you experience it in her choices, even the smallest ones – like the place where we are right now. Roots, in every sense, seem deeply important to her.
I shared this thought with her.
“It’s really interesting that you think this, because it’s something I have explored quite thoroughly in my final year of university when I was working on my degree project. It was a strange, difficult time and I got to thinking a lot about belonging and my relationship with where I come from and where I’m going to. I left home about six years ago and although at the time it didn’t feel like a big change, three years down the line it felt like these changes finally started to catch up with me. I found myself a bit disconnected, alienated, I felt like I was in this sort of limbo for some time and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I think it came with the realisation that I wasn’t really connected to anywhere: I was not yet established in this new place, I didn’t have any roots, or at least it didn’t feel like at the time. At the same time, I felt like I was slowly losing my connections with home. So I was in this strange place, not really knowing where I belonged. I had this strong longing, but I couldn’t figure out what for – it was like a longing for belonging”.
That’s probably what they mean when they say you must get lost first in order to find yourself. Breeding never is a pleasant phase, after all.
“I started to reminisce over all the times I was going on hikes with my family as a child: the mountains, the trees, the tree hugs, spending time in the countryside with my grandparents… It all made me realise that what I do have is a really strong connection with nature”. And that, you can have it everywhere, all the time. Because nature is in our guts. “I started exploring the hills and moors of the Peak District, and certain elements often reminded me of a tree, a path, a river from back home in Romania. And then it hit me that nature is really indistinguishable: it’s neither here nor there. It’s everchanging, but always the same. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 5 or 5000 miles away: it’s essentially the same. Yes, the landscape might be different, the vegetation might be different, but ultimately the connection is always there and always the same. And with that came the realisation that no matter where I am, I am always at home”.
Apple trees are not alone in this garden: plum trees and a giant walnut tree give them company. Dora and I both have this thing for trees: these masters of resilience and kindness really fascinate us and bring us back to the important things wherever we are.
Bushes of raspberries and little plants of alpine strawberries decorate the whole scene: we just can’t get enough of these little treasures. Home gardening is what got us close in the first place, so I’m sure right now we are both admiring these little masterpieces of nature wandering how we could grow them in our houses.
“What would you name them?”, I asked. Dora laughed. You know, we give names to plants, whether it’s Alan the Aloe or Ettore di Avocado. I guess that’s what happens when you acknowledge identity in every single living being.
“Here, let’s pick the walnuts!”, I suggested. It’s late autumn and Dora finally gets to pick these delicious fruits proper ripe.
Always bring it home
“What about your work? You are a photographer of humans experiencing nature, usually getting in contact with the most instinctive and inner part of themselves while practicing adrenaline sports and activities. That’s when people ‘become’ nature again and it’s magical. That’s when they get back home”, I stated.
“Well, a friend once said ‘always bring it home’ and I guess that’s what I’m doing. I love being outside, I love natural light, I love the changing seasons. I love capturing the connection other people have with nature, whether it’s a place for them to reflect or play. It’s so incredible that someone looked at rock and said ‘I want to climb that’, that someone looked at a path and said ‘I want to run or ride that’. I love that ludic side of human nature, where the world becomes a playground. It’s amazing to see how people in adventure sports are so connected with the elements. You could say they even become one with them. And it’s something that I love photographing. I am learning so much from being around these people – from pushing limits and endurance to respect for the surroundings. It ultimately puts me back in touch with myself: I feel like I’m re-discovering and learning about myself through these experiences. It also reflects back in my mental attitude when I’m performing these sports”.
“Do you ever get overwhelmed?”
“Yeah, well, it’s not unusual to lose touch with what is going on around me. Whether I’m battling with the elements, pain or with my own fear of failure, it is easy to get caught up in a destructive mindset. So it’s essential to remind myself to take a breath and bring myself back in the here and now. Remind myself to be grateful that I am able to have these experiences, these emotions”.
Gratitude is the greatest experience of presence and belonging, after all.
We decide to go for a walk and venture beyond the fence. At the end of the garden there’s a river, the one that flooded the village back in the days. We jump the fence to get to the river bank. And from here, the adventure begins!
We cross the bridge and end up on a path that runs alongside some fenced plots and stables. Destination: the forest. Such a big one, but never overwhelming.
That’s why we do it
Once among the magic of our beloved trees, we start talking about the environment: the difficulties of protecting it, how to promote a more sustainable and conscious approach to adventure and exploration. How to send a clear and strong message: protect our Earth.
“The rediscovery and exploration of this strong bond I have with nature led me to thinking a lot about our relationship with the environment. I’m really interested in manmade interventions and the impact this is having on the landscape, visually and otherwise. I’ve got a longterm project on the backburner where I’m looking at the long term effects of these interventions. I feel this urge, this need to learn as much as I can and document my findings through photographs, and hopefully pass that on to other curious humans”, Dora said at some point.
“In general, I’d love to work on more political and environmental issues. Human interventions into the landscape can be very much related to climate change and carbon footprint. I feel like photography can help, if you embrace what you believe in and if you choose to use it to pass on a message. Sometimes I do end up in conflict with myself and my values, when I have the choice to photograph a subject that I know would be ‘appreciated’ although I personally don’t feel a connection with. I learnt to always aim for a connection with the subject, whether it’s a person or an issue: it’s something that will show in the image and it is more likely to create a connection with the viewer in return”.
Photography is another form of art and communication. As a writer, I feel the need to align with Dora’s thoughts. I believe we all have a very important duty and our responsibility is great in regard to the message we decide to spread. Coherence in this sense is very hard, especially when you want to work with your art. However, I feel that when in struggle this same nature we love so much can help us a great deal in showing us how to stick to our values and beliefs, reminding us why we do it in the first place and why it’s so vital we don’t give up.
The main drive
We walked and walked and walked. This forest just never ends! At some point, a big lavender field opens up in front of you and makes you wow a little bit more. “It feels like you go on and on and the landscape keeps surprising you”, Dora said snapping a picture.
“I’m extremely lucky and grateful that I get to do what I love. I feel this comes with a great responsibility and I’m still trying to figure out the implications of it, but for now love, kindness and integrity are my main drive”, she concludes while we finish our day soaking in the last sun beams.
For sure, love, kindness and integrity will always bring you back home, show you your true nature and draw you to where you fit. Sometimes, it does take a while, but when nature is home, then the whole world is home. All paths will lead there and you will never breathe alone.
Thank you, Dora.