An Interview with Krešimir Zadravec

Everyone can be a good photographer today! This simple sentence is correct in the context of development and massive availability of technology, contemporary cameras, its standard performances and functions enabling the user to make a technically perfect photo. Throw in a smidgeon of talent for framing and aesthetics, and there you have a good photographer.

However, in a flood of ‘good photos’ and even ‘better photographers’ it’s necessary to step out of the box and distinguish oneself from the masses while keeping the spectator’s interest.  A good photo is judged on its originality, self-expression and a concrete and/or intriguing story, all that makes your photo expression special and different.

The Zagreb-based photographer Krešimir Zadravec has been photographing for a number of years now, and that which he’s acclaimed for recently is his unpretentious series of photographs which he systematically publishes on his tumblr Zagrepčani /Zagreb Inhabitants/. Regardless of whether you live in Zagreb, visit it occasionally, love it or hate it, Krešimir Zadravec’s documentary project will present you Croatia’s capital through a completely different prism. Zadravec captures everyday city moments on his analog camera, fragments that are at the same time banal and completely bizarre, thus painting the Zagreb and Croatian reality.

Intrigued by his project  Zagrepčani /Zagreb Inhabitants/, we had a chat with Krešimir about his street snapping, Zagreb and its inhabitants.

How would you describe your project Zagrepčani /Zagreb Inhabitants/?

I always feel uncomfortable when I have to talk my photos and it’s equally hard to define what I do in a few sentences. Actually, everything started with Garry Winogrand quote: “I have a burning desire to see what things look like photographed by me“.  Thus, it’s all about documenting contemporary life through photographs that I take throughout the city’s public spaces. I spend time on streets, squares, train stations, open-air concerts, and in parks. I try to be where things will imminently start happening. While doing so, I have no intention of telling any particular story, as it’s say expected in  photo-reporting, I just go with the flow, follow my instincts and react to things as they come. I’m interested in anomalies in seemingly completely ordinary situations, which I’d discovered only when I had totally immersed myself in the project. I’d even go so far as to say that I don’t consider myself responsible for neither what is captured nor the way it’s shot. I don’t have any pre-defined scenes or motives in my head, I just push the trigger in any given moment and go on about my day. My task lies within deciding which of these captured images make the cut. The result is Zagrepčani /Zagreb Inhabitants/, a selection of photos that all fit together within a few seconds of frozen time.

How long has the project been in existence and how did the project concept come into existence?

My photographic work is based on working in series. Upon finishing the series “The Strangers” in 2009, I spent the whole of next year in search of a new challenge, a theme I could dedicate myself to honestly and completely. The idea of documenting life in the City of Zagreb’s public spaces dawned on me in late 2010. It’s a process that ranges complete emptiness upon finishing one project up to that enthusiastic feeling I feel upon embarking on a new challenge.

Is there any rhyme and rhythm in view of the creative intensity of your photos, are they created on a daily basis or not? Do you shoot them intentionally or are they fruits of the everyday humdrum existence and habitual camera-toting?

I promised myself from the very beginning that I wouldn’t either limit or burden myself with anything in view of this project. That’s why the intensity of my shooting varies, although I do try to use every opportunity to go out with camera in hand (I use a small camera that fits in my palm). The only limit I did impose on myself was a deadline of one year, and to take a look at everything I shot within that time frame and subsequently select those photos that best represent what I captured. That leisurely approach is what makes it possible for me to look forward to every street-outing and continue to be as surprised and amazed as I was at the beginning of the story, even today, a little over a year later.

Street photography is still encountered with a sort of disapproval of passers-by, for the most part people don’t like to be photographed, why do you think that is?

People in general like for others to keep their noses out of their business and to at least respect that minimal personal space that each of us has a right to. So the question is how to approach a person or situation. In documentary photography the photographer can become invisible if he spends enough time with the subject he’s photographing, after a while people just stop paying attention to you. You don’t have that option on the street, but there are various ways to escape the fate of an angry crowd coming after you. First of all, one needs to be positive, open to everything that’s before you and I guess the most important – have respect to those you photograph and/or the way you go about photographing them. That’s an issue of energy, action – reaction.

How well or unwell do you tread that line, is there a certain amount of fear and discomfort you feel while closely photographing people on the street?

In order to capture something interesting, and for it to be interesting to the viewer of the photo, you have to be sufficiently close. In my case, and I work with a relatively wide-angle lens, anything that’s more than two meters away is too far. I don’t feel any discomfort and I try not to make the people I capture uncomfortable either. If I were afraid of various interactions, and they’re inevitable, I’d probably photograph something akin to the “Strangers” again. A dose of excitement is always present, it’s that adrenalin rush which makes a person feel curiously clear and sprightly.

Zagreb is often a city called out as a place where people both on the streets and on its trams can rarely be seen smiling. What’s your take on that, are we living in a city of sad faces?

We live in a time that neither leaves us too much space to carelessly coast without a specific goal nor to pursue what we really want. That’s also visible both in public transportation and on sidewalks. But that doesn’t mean that this city is smileless or that its inhabitants aren’t courteous. I don’t think that there’s less happiness in this city as opposed to any other European city. I just talked to a man that works at a kiosk the other day and we laughed together at an inane joke. Something similar happened to me just the day before as well. And the day before that. What this city needs most is high-quality content within public spaces, that people have a chance to relax and that it all has some sort of meaningful substance.

You yourself are a Zagreb inhabitant and have always lived in Zagreb. Have you noticed a change in the city and what inspires you most?

The city is continuously changing. Some things are good, some aren’t. The institutionalized changes are mostly not good, while the spontaneous ones turn out to be positive surprises on a regular basis. I noticed this summer the way that people consume city parks, sitting or lying on the grass, children floating toy boats in fountains… I find inspiration in things that get me moving.

Zagreb and its scene are often portrayed superficially with clichéd and glitzy postcards of the city, do you consider your tumblr to be the real face of Zagreb?

“Zagrepčani” /Zagreb Inhabitants/ are the result of my selection of a dozen or so, in my opinion, interesting photos out of a ton of delayed reactions, askew angles and insufficiently exposed negatives. Street photography (and I don’t like that term) is like fishing – you put in all your knowledge and time just to end up praying for one lucky moment. If people in those photos recognize the real face of Zagreb all I can say is that I’m flattered, but it doesn’t really bear witness to the actual truth. A photo never really shows the truth, it’s just one way something is portrayed.

What is the future of the project? Do you have any plans to turn the tumblr Zagrepčani /Zagreb Inhabitants/ into an exhibition?

The project is still ongoing and I thing it won’t be finished any time soon. Within the next year I plan to apply to several festivals with my project, organize an exhibition and publish a book of photos from my tumblr.

What do you do when you aren’t photographing Zagreb inhabitants?

I try my best to stay amazed.

Click here to take a look at many more photos of Krešimir’s Zagreb Inhabitants.