I like challenges (not so much when it’s too much at stake, though, but I do), so the idea of participating in a photomarathon was really appealing to me. Not because of twelve hours of photographing (I’ve had longer marathons on assignments), but because I didn’t know the themes beforehand. It was an excercise in storytelling and especially in expressing the given topic in a specific interpretation in just one photo. In times when I feel more of a worker than a thinker it was a nice test to see if “I still got it”. Will I recognize the story when I see it in daily life on the streets? Will I see the given interpretations of a theme to document a part of it that will tell the story in a unique way?
Anyway, the Photomarathon 2016 took place on Saturday, October 22, in seven cities around the Meditteranean. Beirut, Lebanon. Algiers, Algeria. Naples, Italy. Palermo, Italy. Marseille, France. Amman, Jordan. Ljubljana, Slovenia. The head organizer was the organisation Frame from Beirut. Their local partner/co-organizer in Ljubljana was Apis Institute. We began our twelve-hour mission to document the city at ten in the morning and finished at ten in the evening.
Each photographer in all seven cities received four themes at 10 in the morning, had four hours to shoot and upload one photo for each theme on their profiles on Frame’s website (www.frame.life), then at 14:00 we received the next four themes and needed to upload the next four photos by 18:00 when we received the last four themes. We had to shoot jpg, no raw, no post-production, only the photo as it came out of the camera. What’s more is that the jury will judge the aesthetics of the photo and the content, but they will consider all the photos as a whole, as a body of work. And for me – specializing in stories, and applying the highest standard which includes consistency – that was a unique challenge to make it consistent in style and look, the colors etc. It was even more of a lottery given the fact that we didn’t know which themes would come next.
I never participated in something like that, although I did have opportunities before. To be honest, given that I demand a very high standard for my photos, I never really thought being so limited would produce anything really good. I’m still not sure, but the experience was great. I loved the brainstorming, the depths into which I had to delve to find available imagery that expresses a given theme. Great excercise!
In July, the Apis Institute organized another digital storytelling workshop for youth workers from around Europe designed to provide them with new tools of empowerment of vulnerable groups – by telling their stories through video and photo stories. Facing the Street training was held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, this time. We had participants from eight countries. Eleven of them, again a very diverse group in terms of their knowledge of photography, joined the photo workshop. This second time around I noticed that I still wasn’t entirely confident in what I said in Belgrade, but I trusted and believed in my participants’ abilities. Even those they still didn’t know they had. But I did.
It’s not a competition and it’s not imperative that the story they eventually produce is top level. We’re not just telling stories of people in various hardships of inclusion or exclusion from society. We’re creating new ones, too. We’re bringing our subjects back to light, including them, making them visible again, maing them matter, to us and to the society. As we photograph the chapters in their usual day, our visit is in fact a new chapter that will not be recorded or documented, but it will leave a significant fingerprint on their lives. By being true to them, being their friends who understand them sincerely, not for the sake of the story, and by developing a true and lasting relationship, we are giving them something that seems self-evident to us, but in their lives, it is rare. Somewhere to belong. A friend. Acknowledgement of their lives. Some of them may be too young to comprehend their lives in this way, but they do feel it, even if they can’t explain it in words. They feel that they are different, treated differently, that their lives are not entirely “normal”, and that they perhaps do not fit in.
I guess being on the brink of society, different and not fitting in, will in most cases urge the person to compensate and find a place to belong. Some find that compensation and self-realization in work, others try to express themselves through art, and some find friends in the only communities that take them – and that might even be drug addicts. It’s human nature to search for self-realization. And it can take a wrong turn when society excludes you.
There’s one most important advice I give to my participants at the workshop. “Primarily, you’re not going there for the story. You’re going there to make a new friend.” And that advice really sticks with such big-hearted people. The bonds they knit did not only produce the emotional and strong moments they captured with their cameras. As they documented the chapters in their friend’s daily life, they wrote a new one. They played soccer, climbed mountains, took daytrips, had lunch with their families, made bread and friends for life. They cried when they parted and they hugged when they reunited at the opening of the exhibition.
We’re not supposed to just take, that’s selfish. The storytelling of our kind is generally aimed at giving something back, but our reach and effect is limited. Which is why adding this deep personal aspect is fulfilling for all. It feels good. And it comes natural to people who come to our training.
Just like in Belgrade, many of the participants have never handled a camera before. Some of them wanted to get drunk and run away before showing their stories to me after their assignment. But I knew they had the story. If you make a connection, there’s no way you can go wrong. Which is why now I can honestly say that my words in Belgrade were spot on. I truly believe the best photo stories come from the heart.
The exhibition on display in Atrij ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana (Novi trg 2) is a very strong testimony of my beliefs. It is powerful, compelling and important not just for its power of inclusion, but for its role in giving the voice to people who want to be heard and be part of the society in an equal way. As pure quality of documentary photography is concerned it is dificult to believe that someone who has never handled a camera before can produce work at such level in just one day after a day of theoretical training and a lot of inspiration. You have to see it to believe it. And it is a treat to see these first time authors on par with a couple of experienced documentary photographers that participated as well. So if you have the opportunity to see it, go for it!
But the photo group was not the only one doing an amazing job. The video workshop lead by Romana Zajec and assisted by Yulia Molina and Borut Dolenec also produced some very important stories and with very compelling styles and approaches, seen on the big screen at the opening.
As for the workshop itself, it was quite a week. The photo group had a small lecture room in our Tropical Paradise (it’s how we called our hostel during the hottest days of summer), and the project manager Ivana Stanojev had a huge “office” next door. She’d call people in when she needed anything done. Her desk was in the middle of this big colorless room, mostly empty but big enough to play football in. It had an air of socialist or communist corporate manager office/interrogation room, huge with only a desk and two chairs. All she needed was a lamp she could shine in a person’s face sitting opposite to her. It felt like you’re going there to get fired. That was really funny, but totally unintended. Or was it?😉 (No, in fact Ivana is a very good manager and very kind and friendly and hasn’t chewed off anyone’s head yet. As far as we know.😀 )
When we worked, we worked hard and seriously. And then there was relaxation time. After 30 hours of not sleeping, the idea of fun gets really scewed. Like watching He-Man sing Heyeayea for 10 hours or the emperor in the Gladiator repeating “and again” to Maximus for 10 hours, or moving like retards to the song What is Love – yes, one does go a little (or a lot) bananas after not sleeping for two days. But preparing everything for print was easier for me this time, because that was done by my assistant Nejc Balantič, one of my participants, who is also someone who thinks sleep is for pussies.😀 Nevertheless, everyone did an amazing job. The organizers and all the coordinators, all the assistants and of course the paticipants. Oh, and by the way, thanks to Tarmorazzo, a teacher-turned-paparazzo from Estonia😀 , the official form of addressing me at these workshops is now “my grandmaster”.😀😀
Don’t forget, the exhibition is open until August 24 in Atrij ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana (Novi trg 2)! But here is a preview of the stories in the order you will see them at the exhibition.
Thank you Maryna, Nuno, Amalia, Emanuele, Ginta, Nejc, Konstantinos, Lola, Paula, Vaike and the great Tarmorazzo!
Telling everyone at the opening of a group photo exhibition in Belgrade and the press that you don’t need a lot of skill and expensive equipment to be a great photographer, that you only need a good heart, may sound like a play on human emotions, a soundbyte that I’ve invented, but I was being totally honest. I meant it and for me it is still the number one lesson that I’ve learned.
Here’s the whole story. Read until the end, you won’t be sorry.🙂
The Balkan Initiative for Tolerance from Serbia and the Apis Institute from Slovenia organized a digital storytelling workshop in Belgrade from February 2 to February 8. A week of photo and video workshops. I was mentoring 14 participants set to produce a compelling, socially engaged photo story. Heavily supported by an incredible team of organizers from the Balkan Initiative for Tolerance and Apis, we pulled off something I never thought was possible in such a short time. But with the energy they had, everything was possible. And bytheway, if you ever need a really good fixer in this area, I now know a couple of really good ones.🙂
The participants of the photo workshop came from eleven countries and had a very diverse photography skills. Most of them had no experience in documentary photography, some have never really tried photography at all. But they were big-hearted people working with NGO’s on helping vulnerable groups in their countries. They understand them and feel with them. Our time was scarce, but their wish to use photography as means of empowering vulnerable groups is so heartfelt, that they’ve taken to the heart everything that I told them about building a story. We had one day to go through theory, examples etc., and I kept worrying that it was too much for one day, but they kept telling me that they understood and that it wasn’t too much. It turned out they really did memorize everything. And not just memorize, but internalized by their strong will to make use of photography in their work with vulnerable groups.
We went through story development after each one of them had decided for a story. I gave guidelines for each one of them and off they went. They spent the next day in the field, coming back in the evening to show me their work. And I was blown away.
It was an absolute pleasure to edit their stories with them the next day. With them at my side so I could listen to their suggestions and explanations I edited all the stories (except one) in one afternoon and evening, and boy, did I enjoy it! I already knew they don’t need another day of photographing if it cannot be arranged or if there is no time, because the work they brought back was more than enough for a story of 6 photos that was going to be displayed in an exhibition in Parobrod cultural center in Belgrade. When going through the photos and selecting them, editing them down towards six, all of the participants understood why I am selecting certain photos and not others. All of them also knew that sometimes you need to “kill your darlings”, because they just don’t fit into a story. All of them knew the final edit is all about the perfection of a story, the message it sends across and the feelings it evokes.
When we were done at the end of the day, I was in a state of shock, hardly believing the quality of edits that in no way whatsoever, not in a million years, not even viewing from an airplane at cruising altitude, reflected their little experiences with documentary photography. To me, this exhibition is pure phenomenon. They didn’t use expensive equipment and did use only one lens. Some of them used a phone or a compact camera. But like I said, it doesn’t matter. They had my guidelines and the sensibility to recognize powerful scenes, gestures etc.
If anyone asks me which exhibition I am most proud of, I’d say this one. It’s not my own, but it’s more than that. It’s something I would never think is possible. Stories made primarily from the heart. A testimony to what great lengths – to what ranges of quality human sensibility, a good heart can take you. And that is a gift for me. To survive in my own country I had to abandon working with my heart and submerged into the sewers of impersonal photography serving the world of capitalism. I sold my soul to make it through the month. But seeing what a heart can do gave me hope.
The opening of the exhibition was on February 8 in Parobrod and it was packed. So many people came, including the protagonists of the stories, which was really great! And not only did the photographers do an amazing job, but the video team aced it as well. That makes me happy. I think this, giving a voice to groups and individuals that have none, is the true purpose of storytelling.
Enough talk. Here are the final edits as they were exhibited in Belgrade and the descriptions that participants added . Don’t forget, the stories were made in one day.😉 Be amazed.
THANK YOU Aleksandar, Ana, Debs, Emanuele, Emir, Jana, Jasna, Louisa, Nino, Roberto, Safet, Sara, Zamfi and Zozan! You rock!
Although I don’t live far from the picturesque town of Bled, Slovenia, I never visited the Okarina Festival before. It is three weeks of musical performances, not pop, but ethnographic and folk music. I went to see Cara Dillon from Northern Ireland and on my arrival I was impressed by the magical setting by the lake with the castle and the island in the background. The open air concert was great. People sat in chairs and on a grassy incline in front of the stage. Here are some photos from the concert.
The 18th annual international street arts festival Ana desetnica in Slovenia ran from June 26 to July 8 in various towns across the country, but it had its biggest repertoar in its “home town” of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
For the past five years I am one of two official photographers. Here are just some of the photos from this year’s festival in Ljubljana (from shows that I was assigned to document).
Eventually, it’s the money that will make you or brake you. In a failing economy of utter devaluation of photography, especially documentary photography, the ones swimming up to the surface and making it big are the ones with strong external financial support from the start, e.g. the Slovenia’s front-runner: well-off parents.🙂
The following two stories are what I sent to WPP. They say it’s wise to send something in even if you don’t stand a chance. Your name gets seen. All right.
The first story is hot and the second one is cold. :) The first was actually an award, paid in half; the other half was my debt.🙂 That’s how you do it, if you’re not a son by profession.🙂 The second one was self initiated and produced on scraps of money I am left with.
And a portrait from a different category…
The cold one. It’s from the 2014 ice storm in Slovenia. No captions needed. In the words of late Michael Jackson: “This is it.”
About three months ago, I decided to try something new. I got myself a Yashica twin lens reflex camera and got back to the roots. Film photography. It’s how I started and I still like it for quite a few characteristics. You think before taking the shot. You rely on your knowledge of the light. The suspense in waiting for the film to be developed. In my case, either Kodak Tri-X 400 Professional or T-Max 400 Professional. I went out on the streets and here are the first results.