In the future we inhabit with daily systematic Internet processing of a large number of images, overviews and information, it’s a rare occurrence to stop at the sight of a project, give it a second glance, and then do it all over again tomorrow.
That’s exactly the kind of effect that the photographic series “The Future” by Bojan Mrđenović has on me.
As contemporary photography doesn’t strive to communicate “at first glance” as documented by numerous photographic projects that function as a whole only when one reads the accompanying text or artist’s statement, which serves to amplify the strength of the photographic series thus drawing a person into the story, the whole context, that is, the factual history, brutal present and uncertain future of a region, its inhabitants, and the country as a whole.
I came across this series of photographs of abandoned, completely derelict facilities by Bojan Mrđenović on the portal Contemporary Croatian Photography just last week before the finalists were announced for the photograph festival Rovinj Photodays, where Mrđenović was nominated in the category of Architecture. I contacted him, but we waited to do the interview until after the Photodays results, what proved to be a good move as Mrđenović (deservedly) won the nomination.
The title of his series “The Future” isn’t ironic in the least, rather an absolute and inevitable reality that the author documents honestly and steadfastly, with a fantastically captured atmosphere, leaving the viewer facing the ruins of war and/or the demise of capitalism of an economically devastated country.
Mrđenović is a Film and TV student at the Zagreb Academy of Dramatic Arts. His photos from the “Future” series depict the premises of a trade company with a marked name, established in 1954, with its headquarters in Pakrac. The company had over fifty localities during the nineties in Pakrac, Lipik and surrounding villages.
Despite the strength, profoundness and suggestive narration of the photos themselves, it would be a pity not to hear the attitude and the behind-the-scenes creation process of the series from the author himself, so continue reading to find out what the young author has to say about the beginning of the series, accompanied by the photos themselves.
When did you begin shooting this photographic series and where did the idea to do this stem from?
I started in 2008. The department store in the center of Pakrac (the big “cube”) that’s hard to miss. I photographed several other buildings throughout Pakrac, especially intrigued by their ‘Future’ inscriptions. I took some close-up photos, and put them away, not really thinking that this topic will become the theme of a series of photos and become what it is today.
I frequently return to my shooting locations, as was the case here. I knew that more “Future” facilities existed and I was interested to find out what the other ones looked like.
The localities in the cities (Pakrac, Lipik) were easier to locate, but in terms of quantity, there’s fewer of them around as they’ve been either remodeled, sold, or reallocated in the meantime.
But it wasn’t always easy to detect which of the derelict buildings belonged to the “Future.” Those that had a signpost inscription were easy to recognize, but there was doubt in view of facilities that were devastated during the war or have been remodeled in the meantime. In conversation with passers-by I’d get directions where I could find more localities. Recounts by the local inhabitants led me in search of new locations, from village to village. I recently found out that there’s a book called “Croatia’s Department Stores,” where all the “Future” facilities are listed. It helped me, but alas, came to my attention a bit too late in the game.
How many locations did you visit while searching for the “Future,” how long did the whole process of photographing and completing the series last?
There were 54 noted “Future” localities, so I probably visited that many locations. And each one several times over. I used to go there intermittently, and there was time enough in the interim for the idea to develop, so each visit was a small step forward. I made various stylistic and technical decisions that changed and defined the appearance of the series as I went along.
The first photos were shot in the summer, so I decided to change the season and choice of film, as I wanted to achieve both lesser contrast and saturation. From my starting fascination with the inscriptions I decided to go a step further, then another step further, until I got the whole building objectively captured and listed within the frame. That’s why I had to use the wide-angle lens instead of my preferred middle lens, but it ultimately proved to be a good decision. After all the locations were shot, I decided to change my camera and instead of the middle format camera, capture everything again with a large-format camera.
To achieve a consistent atmosphere on all photos, getting the season right was key, the time of day that the sun is on a particular side (it’s different for every building), and quality of lighting, when it’s neither too sunny nor too cloudy. I’m finally satisfied with the photographs now.
Do you think that the series of photographs can help grasp the impact of war and all its immediate and permanent consequences to someone who isn’t familiar with all the circumstances in the region?
If someone isn’t familiar with the problems of this region, they are probably familiar with the problems of their own region. We are often able to share experiences and relate to someone geographically distant. Problems brought on by war and economic crisis are globally understood.
During the Croatian War of Independence, Western Europe was often criticized because people there were passively watching the events from the comfort of their own homes. Some ten years later, we are watching the unfolding of events in Iraq or Syria in much the same way.
It’s possible to understand the works intended for a local context in other contexts as well. The problem of the local context isn’t the impossibility of understanding; it’s the lack of interest.
I’m interested in marginal topics, the ones that are outside the sphere of common interest, topics that the daily press doesn’t find interesting because they are not the most beautiful, the oldest, the biggest or best. I’m aware such topics may stir less public interest, but I still think it’s important to deal with the local context. The fact that many authors seem to be forgetting this makes the cultural products worldwide more and more the same.
These photographs received international acknowledgment by the panel of judges at Photodays, and were given high marks regardless of the fact that most of the panel members were unfamiliar with the local context.
In your portfolio on the Croatian Contemporary Photography Blog all the galleries are dealing with architecture, i.e. space, the level of decay, duration, renewal or destruction. Are these the things that interest you most; in other words, do you find such motifs and topics more interesting than people (who are to blame for that very decay and destruction)?
I like this approach better than photographing people. This approach also deals with the human aspect in a roundabout way. I don’t take photographs of space in terms of intact nature, but space that has social meaning and is created and shaped by social and political changes. Sometimes these changes mean decay and disappearance and sometimes they mean renewal. I’m interested in the social and institutional frame that impacts the individual. Architecture and space in general are a good example of that.
When it comes to spaces I’m currently dealing with, I feel a stronger need to react because I watch these spaces disappear, I watch them change and transform quickly. I feel I have to do it right away because this is last chance I have to capture things as they are now.
In addition to the Rovinj Photodays, where I hope Mrđenović will be chosen as a laureate in the Architecture Category, with undoubtedly the strongest story of all the nominees in terms of concept and context; he’s also participating at the exhibition Tendencies of Engaged Post-Yugoslavian Contemporary Photography in Ljubljana.