A couple of months ago my friend Darko Stanimirović in Belgrade mentioned that he was hoping to organize some of his friends in town to create a Serbian street photography collective of sorts. Over the following weeks the groundwork for Belgrade Raw was developed through memorable nights full of Montenegrin wine and impassioned debates. I’m proud to present my friends’ efforts here and invite you to see some awesome work by six Belgrade photographers. I invited Darko to answer a few questions about the project:
What is Raw all about, who is involved, how do you know each other?
Well, one day I realized there are a couple of really good freelance street photographers in Belgrade. I especially admired how they capture those ordinary-extraordinary moments of Belgrade life. And they didn’t really care about using old films or front flash. I liked that rawness, it was way more honest and interesting than any boring touristic picture we can see all around. Not just in tourist guides, but basically everywhere – night-life/news magazines, websites, photo galleries etc. We’re all either Belgrade-born or we’ve been living here for long enough to know it shows nothing about Belgrade, but it’s all anyone can really get. So we’re here to try to change it, to show all those small & big things no one wants to publish, but things that really make this city.
We know each other mostly over some Internet forums and Flickr pools. One night in a park, drinking cheap but fine wine, I proposed this idea of a website that would showcase portfolios of some interesting Belgrade-based street photographers to Luka-Strika, one of our photographers. Over next few nights I designed simple layout and coded it in WordPress. In some three weeks the whole crew was gathered and voila! It’s cool how everything was brought to life really quickly.
Why does the city and photo community need this group?
It’s not just that we as photographers “see” other side of our city. There is a whole community of people who’d love to see something really different and “honest”, without that ugly touristic taste in it. And I’m talking about both people living in Belgrade/Serbia and foreigners. You can learn much more about a city by looking at works of it’s street photographers, than looking at tourist guides or surfing the promo websites. And for the photographers themselves, Belgrade Raw is important because it gives them a context in which to work. It’s always easier to “fill-in” when you have that framework.
What is it about Belgrade that you are focusing on?
It’s hard to tell exactly what we focus on. In a joke, we usually say “that’s something for newspapers, not for Belgrade Raw.” That means we also publish photos which probably wouldn’t be published in traditional sensationalistic media. We like normal, ordinary people, personal stories and interpretations. Someone would think the city is too small for such a “focused” project, but it’s not. In fact, it’s incredible how many big and little stories are still waiting to be covered, while there are so many local newspapers, magazines, TV stations, websites…
Why street photography? Why this manner of photographing Belgrade?
Street photography is a concept that perfectly matches our idea of showing our own, honest view of Belgrade, because it involves photographers who “wander” all around, by day or night, covering everything that seems interesting or important. It’s the opposite of “beautiful sunny day panorama of Belgrade, commissioned by…” Also, street photographers are often freelancers, so you kinda get that true personal view. Speaking of Raw, we don’t care if a photograph was created using a cellphone camera, compact, film or digital. Prime or plastic lens. All we care about is strong personal storytelling. And if you look at the whole “industry” of documentary photography, that’s more or less the direction it takes.
What is next?
We’ve only just begun, but we do have plenty of ideas. Right now, it’s important for us to continue photographing our city, there’s so much more to show. But in the same time, we make plans for print too. We would also love to make some kind of cooperation with other photo-collectives, especially with those in the neighboring countries. There are also plans for guest photographers, so we’re not being limited to “Belgrade-born” or “Serbian” or such. (ed: check out the recap of a workshop with Donald Weber in Belgrade that members of Raw attended, and helped support, for an example of where this project might continue to grow).
And how does this reflect Belgrade/Serbia/Serbs?
For starters, we’re avoiding traditional cliches. But not the other extreme either (“we’re all beautiful, peaceful, awesome people”), so we’re trying to find the right balance. No, we’re not trying actually. We don’t even think about it much, I guess it just comes naturally. But about some other, deeper sync with Serbia/Serbs in general, we’ll have to wait.
The site is still developing and new projects are uploaded every week. One of my personal favorite series, and which sums up the Raw project so well, is “Wind” by Nemanja Knežević. A fresh, personal view of the city that is completely honest, and confounding to much of Serbia’s reputation. Great to see photographers, under their own motivation, creating their own work under their own voice, and finding ways to get it seen on their terms. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this crew when I’m back in Belgrade and maybe producing my own street work from town.
You can, and should, also follow these guys via Belgrade Raw’s Blog, their Flickr Feed, Twitter or become the 521st fan of theirs on Facebook.