2014 done, let’s recap. Here are the best photos of 2014. Not many, because I’m not working as much as before. In fact, you know what, no more sugarcoating, let’s just say it as it is. In recent months, I’ve somehow become indifferent with everything. So much so that I can let go of everything and screw it all without any bitterness and anger. I’m kind of realxed now, but I still love to tell the truth. Everything written here applies to Slovenia. I do a maximum of four to five bigger gigs a year, and some smaller paid things, while everything else just doesn’t pay the bills, not even covers production costs. It’s a meager existence, but I’ve learned to live from one job to another. In a market that favors slavery and (speaking of photography) mostly un/wellunderpaid work, I’m working with the clients that know how to go beyond family ties and friendly favors, value quality and work ethics, and have no capitalist extremist tendencies that keep photographers here struggling to survive despite the loads of work they’re getting. Oh, yes, they are getting work. That work just never reaches my ears or mailbox or whatever. I understand. It’s a dog eat dog world and popularity is the only thing (not quality) that’ll keep you on the radar. But shit, hey, I’m not a cool-looking, Indiana Jones kind of hotshot wielding a camera like a gun through some war zone – I don’t work on my sensationalist image, hence the ignorance. And I don’t have my mommy and daddy providing me with money for exotic travel and storytelling in far-off places that eventually get me noticed in some big magazines that would publish a story on a small lake in Taiwan, but not a huge conservation story and an international eco project from an unknown country like Slovenia. We’re the speck no-one notices on a map, 70% of the world is ignorant of this place and 30% know Lake Bled. Anyway, I don’t do stuff that’s been done a thousand times and that everyone does, if it means doing it solely for reference. I could, but I won’t go to Gaza that’s becoming the #1 photojournalist tourist destination unless I have a very very unique story to tell. Or any other such place. But that doesn’t even matter, because general public and general media (not so much anymore in other countries I’ve noticed) is jerking off on “popular” sensational international news (should look like an action movie if possible). Sure, it’s not easy and it’s dangerous to go there, and most international photojournalists working for big or important outlets are doing an important job there, but if you’re not working with VII, Noor, Time, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters and other media outlets that pay you for daily coverage of the region, what are you doing? Being unpaid and in the entire flood of images coming from those regions, what the hell are you doing there, if you’re not covering a unique angle or a never before seen story? Are you building an image for yourself or are you telling stories?
It’s fairly easy to take a good picture in some exotic place or a war zone (this one not so much really, depends on what kind of picture), because (and I’m still referring to the country I live in) even a single photo of a beautiful archipelago or a totally destroyed street will make people hail it as fantastic and awesome and amazing. But this country? In a way, even Slovenians are like the 30% of foreigners who see only this country’s natural beauty worth of any praise. Everything else is like “cool, whatever”. So when debating what’s easier to do, here’s my take. If you’ve been provided with the foundations and financial support for your exotic work, if you’re covered and well equipped, it’s f***ing easy. So if you’re such a hotshot, do an amazing story in a country that’s totally boring (in your opinion) – here, in your back yard. The landscapes and exotic people won’t help you here. You’ll need content and you’ll need to notice it, package it, present it, build a story from start to finish, and please, do it without any big budget funding!
But why do it? I get it. Look at me; I did most of my stories at home. Where did that get me? :) The interest in what I do is pretty grim, the lectures I had this year were a good proof. It’s so funny to see what it did to me now that I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore. Why is it that whatever I do is almost completely ignored by professional photographic community in my country, while that same work got so much constructive favorable opinions from the biggest editorial and photography names in the world? The answer is quite a thesis, but you know what, I don’t care anymore. It’s Slovenia. In the words of Mary Anne Golon (Washington Post): “How is it possible, that with this kind of work, you’re not working anywhere?” Wrong address! From what I can see, quality counts for nothing here. I’ve won seven Slovenia Press Photo awards in just two years. Three in 2011 and four in 2013. The contest is anonymous, I sent in unpublished work, but won almost everything including overall story. Guess what: the jury was made of foreign photo editors and photojournalists. Those weren’t the only awards I got, and again it doesn’t even matter to me, because I’m not working for awards. Awards, given to me by the biggest names in photography, were my only confirmation that I’m good at it, and means of convincing employers that I’m worth hiring (of course it didn’t exactly happen :) ). They were also the only means of covering my expenses producing these stories (most of the stories weren’t done for a client). And in 2011 when the competition ended, I was broke and almost forced to quit this. The money from the awards saved me. I invested it in further important stories; I actually swung into even higher gear and produced a story that for me represents the absolute ideal of what I want from photography. I told the story about Barbara, the girl with cerebral palsy and her family, struggling with life in this failing country. When I sent the stories to the contest and won in three categories and overall, I was broke again. Winning Slovenia Press Photo was the only way to get enough exposure of Barbara’s story to push it forward and use it to help her family. People raised over 20,000 euros for them and we changed their lives. It was two months later that I realized there were no money prizes at Slovenia Press Photo 2013. I just didn’t care about it before. And that’s where it left me. No savior this time, but surely, now people (who need to know) will know how good I am at what I do, haha! And my situation only got worse. Upside down world.
Something amazing happened next. An awesome study in Slovenian mentality. People who know me and actually wish me well couldn’t comprehend why I don’t get work even if I suggest it to someone or why nothing ever comes my way through regular channels (photographer colleagues), so they had a wonderful idea. And I don’t mean it sarcastically. I really think it was a great idea, because it produced results that would ultimately bring me to terms with the way things work around here. They told me to be open about it. So I started speaking up. No more blowing smoke when someone asked how I’m doing. Sure I’m doing fine – around a month a year. :) I still didn’t spill all the beans, because that would be too much, but I did show a hint of what kind of life I’m leading. Here, you see, I discovered a strange feature of Slovenian mentality. First of, taking all of what needed to be said into account means taking responsibility – at least mental – to remember this when a job comes your way. I know because I was in the same spot and I did relay the job to a friend who really needed it back then, and it picked him up. I was happy to help. But that’s me. The thing is that responsibility is a fairly foreign concept in this country. So it’s easier to listen to what I have to say and shun it as simple wining, because that exonerates you of the responsibility, and even saves you from actual listening. There’s plenty of that running around this country. It’s not necessarily because one wouldn’t want to help, but can also be because they can’t. Needless to say, being open about it didn’t really do the trick, but I did it anyway just to say I did everything I could. However, there’s another ideology feature. Most people don’t even comprehend or even grasp the notion of not having money. They don’t understand what “I don’t have money” means and this is probably universal. You’d hear someone say: “Even if I didn’t have money, I bought a plane ticket and went travelling.” Alright, then you did have money. ;) So consequently they don’t understand that I wasn’t able to take any risks anymore (the kind I did take years ago), no risky investments or new turns in my career that would involve financial investments. So all those suggestions about starting something new have to be weighed against my financial abilities, and it amounts to very little. That doesn’t mean I’m not brainstorming though, but I’m very limited. To illustrate how this works, I told someone once that I had 120 euro/month (now I have less), and he just said: “Well, why don’t you move to London and find a job there?” Soooo, what part of 120 euro/month you don’t understand? London? 2nd most expensive city in the world? Really? See, perspectives are hard to match.
A year ago I’d be mad and bitter. Today, I laugh at it, because I accept this society as regressive and waaaaay behind markets of actually developed countries. I shed all my ambitions and I’m taking my life, although much like the teenage life dependent on my parents, as it is. I don’t give a shit anymore, and I don’t care if anyone looks at my work or not, I don’t even beat myself over not being able to produce new stories. It’s not my fault. I’ve spent 15 years investing in nothing but my work in Slovenia,the last four or five to promoting my work, and here I am. Some would say that I let them win, that I let all the ignorance defeat me. No, I didn’t. It’s not about them and me; we’re in this together. Maybe I’m just not the same kind of person. And besides, it didn’t break me. I’m totally fine. No work, no expenses. And the work that I actually do is the work that I absolutely love doing. My long-lasting cooperation with National Geographic Junior is priceless. Even in the wake of a strong financial sweep, I would never leave them. The work I do for them is scarce of course, because it is a licensed magazine and we’re limited to feature stories, but it’s still a lot of fun. Ana Monro theatre is another such client. Ana Desetnica, Ana Mraz and Ana Plamenita street arts festivals are some of the highlights of my year, awesome and funny and great to photograph. In recent years, I’ve also covered a fairytale or better yet storytelling festival and I like it a lot. There were many things that also came out of my cooperation with my editor at NG Junior, again a very rewarding experiences, which is why I am grateful for all of it. Still, most of my year, I’m jobless, but some things do come my way. Most of those (well, 99%) from Slovenia are jobs where they would like to have me working practically for free. Filtering has become a skill. The one percent this year came from Finland and that was fair and professional, and the story was great. I’m still with Demotix and Imago, but although the editors are great, I can hardly still afford covering stories for them.
There’s people who stay with you through hard times and understand you, and there are those who’d just hate to have their fun bubble burst, and do not care. The clients mentioned above value having me around and I am thankful for that. In fact there are people who continue their undying support for my work and who I am. Like my New York ‘sister from another mister’ as I call her. I do get help, although not job-wise, but in terms of promotion. Unfortunately, I still have to see the effects of all my self-promotion. But I am very very grateful for all the interest and care of all these people, and in 2014 it was also Vanja from Tednik, a show on our national TV, and Ron Haviv who’s been supporting me for all these years when I also tried to get to New York through grants here and abroad. After all of that, I think it’s time to just embrace the situation and work inside the available maneuvering space, and taking none of it to the heart anymore. It feels better. I don’t see my 2014 as a failure. I see it as optimal. Sure, yes, in the light of what others did in photography it’s nothing, but there’s no way comparing such different financial and social circumstances. Once you accept that, things get a lot easier. 2015 will be a lot different. It needs to be. It’s time for new endeavours and challenges, not neccessarily in the field of photography itself, although perhaps some of the best things in photography are just starting to happen. Like my quest into street photography with a twin lens reflex camera. Like perhaps a photo book finally. We’ll see.
Here’s how 2014 played out.
And that concludes our broadcast day.