A Photograph Offers the World in a Frame to the Observant Viewer

To view the contemporariness of certain visual appearances without that certain detachment that only comes with time lapsed is not simple at all. In the wake of her just published book entitled Na drugi pogled. Pozicije suvremene hrvatske fotografije. (At Second Sight. Positions of Contemporary Croatian Photography), Sandra Križić Roban, curator, theorist and art historian, talked precisely about this passage of time and how it affects our view of things, the state of photography in Croatia, its guidelines and main characteristics. The author offers insight into photographic happenings post World War Two up to the current state of photography, presented via 11 contemporary artists (Mara Bratoš, Sandro Đukić, Marko Ercegović, Elvis Krstulović, Antun Maračić, Ana Opalić, Silvia Potočki Smiljanić, Jasenko Rasol, Žarko Vijatović, Mirjana Vodopija i Ivana Vučić.) with an accompanying exhibition At Second Sight, held at the Gliptoteka.

We live in a time of hypertext and hyper-images. The Internet has become a media for determining one’s own existence. We are saturated with images. How does photography stand out in your opinion and what can it offer today, how is it specific within the context of time and space?

Photography offers the observant viewer the world in a frame, both the past world that they didn’t have a chance to see with their own eyes as well as the current one. I’m not sure that any medium can define it better, or at least provide conditions that can help determine and define one’s own existence. A photograph offers much, as we recognize what we are within its “faces”, it reflects the world we live in. Photography displays our interests, both cultural and intellectual interests – as well as the completely banal ones, led by ordinary human curiosity. I like to think of it as a visual trace of that which is happening to us, a trace that is perpetually complementing itself. And it’s nice to know that authors from all over the world are participating in that complementing process. I sometimes get the feeling that this is quite a democratic medium which successfully overcomes numerous obstacles and I hope that my beliefs will stay intact for a long time.

Her specific point of view lies in an unusual Barthes text where he talks about photography as a vaporizing experience, something that’s at the same time present and absent. And we find part of its specific quality in our quest for truth, the reality we strive to recognize wondering if what we see really exists.

*Marko Ercegović; Male promjene; 2008.

Where and how would you draw the line between art photography, commercial fashion photography and for example, documentary photography?

I really like fashion photography, as I was formed by the exceptional visual atmosphere of ID and various Vogue editions. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend a world without photo reporting, especially pertaining to the earlier decades. Photo reporting plays a highly important role in the media and I believe that to this day images from various parts of the world don’t just witness that one specific – defining – moment someone managed to capture on film, but the photographer’s sensibility seeps through as well, his or her ability of conveying details. And that ability differs from photographer to photographer. Today documentary photography is something reminiscent of a different system, firstly researches that authors have undertaken for a whole slew of different reasons. For example, Mladen Tudor’s photographs relate to our socio-materialistic reality but then again they are so much more than that. Ana Opalić’s series Mjesta masovnih egzekucija (Venues of Mass Execution) is documentesque in character, but numerous other layers are felt in those works which the author found out over time. Those are documents of recent events, venues from where it’s impossible to wipe the traces out. I don’t know if there is any need to draw lines, but a lot depends on the various aspects of photography we deal with in any given moment in time and what discoveries we aim to resolve through our various exploration techniques.

*Jasenko Rasol; Vintages; 2009.

Early last year Ana Opalić launched the Contemporary Croatian Photography site, while your book contributes to the research of Croatian photography as well. However, it seems that the status of studying photographs as a medium has for the most part been marginalized. Moreover, institutional support is non-existent even from the Department of Art History which pays minimal attentions to photography. Why do you think that is?

I can’t comment on the state of affairs at the Department as I’m not acquainted with their circumstances. Photography both is and isn’t marginalized; there are a few people who continuously engage in it but the question remains as to whether that is enough to satisfy us. It seems that things have come to a halt following Davor Matičević and the golden age of the CEFFT, along with many other events at Toše Dabaca’s Atelier organized by Petar Dabac. I’d venture to say that many things have been marginalized, not only photography. When Ana launched her site she was guided by her own personal musings and tendencies towards certain photographic expressions and turned it into a brilliant enterprise. A lovely series of photograph exhibitions monographic in character as well as a series of smaller projects were realized by Marina Viculin. We shouldn’t forget the annual national and international photograph exhibitions which the Croatian Photography Association has been organizing for the past fifteen or so years. Of course, the issue of continuity is predominant as is the fact that there’s no “institutional support”, as you yourself stated. Today’s world approaches artistic appearances in a somewhat different way thus further rendering a lack of fundamental researchers that are of vital importance, as they could serve to raise awareness in regard to the importance of continuity for the purpose of making an argument in view of the criteria which present an utmost necessity.

*Mirjana Vodopija; Raslinje

In your book At Second Sight. Positions of Contemporary Croatian Photography, you emphasize the fact how it’s necessary to reevaluate certain overrated systems (theoretical, art historian), including comprehension of photography. What is this exactly about and how are you going about it?

The vast amount of books dedicated to photography published in the past ten years is truly impressive. Theories provide new and different interpretations, eminent experts ponder on and write about photography – not only recent productions but previous periods as well. Everyone who decided to engage in this media has the chance to offer new theories about their respective material. Because otherwise, what’s the point of research and interpretation? More than once I had the privilege to collaborate with Camera Austria, a magazine and gallery that have actively been promoting photography in all its various “faces” for thirty years now. I did an exhibition with Christine Frisinghelli of new documentary photographs Stay or Go that was exhibited in 2004 in Zagreb and Graz. In addition, I spent some time on a scholarship in Graz researching and learning in Camera Austria’s library and gallery. Not long ago Petar Dabac reminded me of times gone by, when the magazine SPOT was in regular circulation in Zagreb – it was a publication which he and his colleagues carried to Graz during the seventies and it served as a starting point for Frisinghelli, Willmann and Furuya when they were establishing Camera Austria. Just imagine, back then they were the ones wondering how it was possible to publish a magazine such as SPOT! And look at them now, compared to where we are today. We have neither a magazine nor an institution, there are texts in catalogues and a few more comprehensive studies. Thus, there is no other option than to rehash what has been happening and based on that research offer our own interpretations.

*Žarko Vijatović; Iz ciklusa: Mamin fotoaparat

You decided to view the position of contemporary Croatian photography through a profile of 11 artists, 11 different views. Were you led solely by your own inclination towards particular authors and are there common traits in their opuses, that is, how to they differ between themselves? How do they fare within the scope of world photography?

In a way I wanted to conclude the research on the opuses of certain photographers whose work I’ve been following for the past ten years. When I determined the selection I didn’t even think about their common framework. The way I react to certain works is a highly personal experience. Simply put, there are certain expressions I have tendencies towards, which I’ve never made a secret of. It is completely legitimate to make such a selection as the bottom line is that it’s comprised of Croatian authors that have among other things represented us on the international scene many times over. Even though one should be careful with such qualifications as many photographs have the chance to show their works on the international scene, and that doesn’t automatically confirm them as artists, their artistic position or their artistic value. The media shower attention on exhibitions of our photographers in international centers without specifying the precise gallery where it was exhibited. The magical phrase seems to be “exhibits internationally”. I published texts on Stilinović, Maračić, SofijaSilvija, Gattino, as well as a supplement on New Tendencies in Camera Austria. I presented Marko Ercegović’s published work and hope that more of our authors’ works will be published in the magazine. I hold this particular context relevant and have faith in their judgment.

*Sofijasilva (aka Silvija Potočki); Obična tuđina; 2008.

Is there continuity in Croatian photography? Can we talk about the history of Croatian photography or, rather, about individual artists who have left their mark in art history?

We should be aware of the fact that our scene is a small one, but we should also remember that each scene is about individuals. This, however, does not stop us from considering it within historical continuity. The comprehensive introductory chapter of the book, in which I offer an overview from the Second World War to this day, is a “classic” art history review that, I hope, detects the scene. This book is not a synthesis of everything that has happened in photography, which is something I intend to write one day. An acceptable review of the scene was offered in the exhibition “Croatian Photography from 1950 To This Day” which was set up by the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1993. Two parallel streams can be traced in the exhibition which was rather hard to put together in the same context in the post-war period: the so-called professional photography and artistic photography. The themes are architecture, Homeland War, fashion, and intimate photos, as well as the status of photography in the media. Although it is a book of reference, the two sides – “from photography towards art” and “from art towards photography”, defined then and so by Matičević, is a slippery slope complemented with a “range of photography use” which allows for many things. But, as a starting point for any future considerations, it must be taken into account.

*Ana Opalić; Bez naslova; 2008.