Kamerades is a new collective of photojournalists based in Belgrade who have come together to help develop independent photography in Serbia and to work on group projects documenting contemporary stories. They are currently working together to photograph the Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday May 6, 2012. These six photographers are contributing their own hard-edged and sardonic vision of the Serbian electoral process and how it reflects Serbian society. They call the project “Dirty Season”.
I think it is an important step for this group and Serbian photography in general to work on such collective projects, with financial support, and to have a community of like-minded photographers working together to get photographs published in their own voice. It is not easy, especially not here, but I admire their energy and efforts. With this in mind I had a few questions for the Kamerades crew about their formation and backgrounds. Given the timeliness of their new project with the elections this week, I chose not to show a portfolio of their work but this current electoral group project which I am so excited about. It is an incredible portrait of Serbia during this election cycle.
Kamerades is Saša Čolić, Nemanja Jovanović, Milovan Milenković, Nemanja Pančić, Marko Risović and Marko Rupena. As a group they regularly post to the Kamerades Blog including updates to the Election story, which they present without captions or credits.
So how did this group of photographers come together? Where did you meet?
Jovanovic: Marko Risovic, Milovan Milenkovic and I participated in a photography lecture supported by World Press Photo back in 2009. That was the first time that we showed some of our work to a group of people larger than three. I was swept by Marko [Risovic]’s Legionnaire story for example and one thing led to another. Milovan suggested that we meet and talk about doing “something” for Serbian photography, even if it means taking only baby steps. After two years of meeting in various pubs and places that would be too generous to call restaurants, speaking and inviting over 20 people to join us, this is what came out of it.
Pancic: Milovan Milenkovic and Nemanja Jovanovic initiated the idea that after our work when we have free time, we can meet at the pub and discuss our work. At first point it brought together a large number of photographers, but over the time there were six of us remained and those were the most persistent ones. During this period, which lasted some two years, we have become a collective. It’s started to affect in a positive way to all of us as photographers, but we also became close friends. In the end we decided to launch a website that allowed us to show our work to the public.
What backgrounds as photographers do you have? Freelance, agencies, newspapers?
Jovanovic: Probably every possible background you can think of! In Serbia, you don’t get a paycheck doing and specializing in only one kind of photography.
Risovic: All of the guys in Kamerades collective were working for Media outlets at some point. At the moment few of us are trying to freelance. In Serbia. Can you imagine?
Pancic: Some of us are working in the agencies, some try to be freelancers, and some in the press.
Was there a moment when this group came together and decided that it was time to work collectively? What was it? What gave you guys the idea to work together?
Jovanovic: Yes. The idea was not so clear in the beginning, but it was there all along. From start we were determined to “push each other forward” and to try to do what we like for no other reason. No money, no awards, fame or glory were important, only escaping our everyday routine which included participating in the inevitable decline of journalism, photojournalism and photography in Serbia. The collective came as a logical solution.
Risovic: Being colleagues, working next to each other for years, we were silent witnesses of degradation of photojournalism in Serbia. We realized that sitting and despairing doesn’t lead us anywhere. So, we decided to pursue some action, and besides hanging around, talking and drinking in the pubs, we tried to be constructive. As Nemanja said before, it was a process, but it was clear from the very beginning that we all have common goal.
How did the website come together? What are you hoping to accomplish with the website (that is, to sell work? to share pictures? promoting yourselves, promoting Serbia, just looking bad-ass, etc.)? Where did the design and logo come from?
Jovanovic: It took some time. We are not experienced in that kind of stuff, so we were learning the basics, step by step. We were lucky enough to be 6 people with completely different interests, knowledge, personalities, approach in photography, but we somehow clicked perfectly together, and it resulted in the fact everybody got their part of job. Mostly Sasha who whipped and pissed off rest of us (or, took the piss out of the rest of us), and Milovan who did logo and design details after approximately nine million e-mails and discussions about the same issue. Also, we had a lot of help from friends, like our colleague Darko Stanimirovic who did the website. A lot of people gave different advices, Matt Lutton among them [ed: happy to help guys!], Donald Weber from VII agency and our friends photographers, designers and editors from Serbia and abroad.
Selling our work is every photographer’s job of course, but with this portfolio we mostly seek attention and hope to sell something in the future, maybe to get some assignments that would suit our style/wishes. And looking cool is one of the goals, of course! We are pretty much terrible musicians and we couldn’t be rock stars, so we took cameras. Chicks love it!
Pancic: As I said before, the website has come as a result of our meetings during the past two years. One idea that keeps us together is that we want to show our work to world around us, we believe that as a collective we have a better chance to get more publicity and through joint actions provide us new projects. Logo design came from a smart push by Milovan Milenkovic, multitalented and good looking guy.
Risovic: Basic thing that bothered us from the beginning was the fact that when you simply google documentary photography and Serbia together, you don’t get any of the serious websites with representative work. There are great documentary photographers and photojournalists in Serbia. Believe us! We hope to change this with our website. And to look badass, it goes well with the fame.
How are decisions made within the group? Are there different roles for the individual photographers?
Everyone: Decisions are made unanimously, through an agonizing, irritatingly slow and boring process. We sometimes vote about important decisions, making it the real democratic procedure. But at some point it became very confusing and boring to outvote about every single little thing. We have meeting very often and we basically talk and make decisions together.
There are some informal roles in our little community: Marko [Risovic] is in charge when it’s about writing, thinking and calming everybody down. Sasha [Colic] is motivator, irritator, our biggest problem and our biggest asset.
Milovan [Milenkovic] acts as a designer, youngest, a bit fresher with ideas then the rest of us. [Nemanja] Pancic gives us shelter, and asks many questions about important issues. [Marko] Rupena makes us look more macho. Nemanja Jovanovic, well, somebody has to be a bad guy and a clown, and to do PR activities. And yes, we all try to keep up with the photography as well.
Are there other groups, collectives or agencies (regional or international) that you’re looking to for inspiration and guidance?
Risovic: We are trying to use good examples that exist, but knowing our limitations and trying to stay unique and self-consistent.
Colic: We do follow what’s going on at the major scene, and have been influenced by Noor and Magnum ever since, but the Luceo Images cooperative model is something that Kamerades is proud to see existing in Western world. It gives a lot of guidance in terms how group of people can produce such a brilliant work, funding group projects and expanding photojournalism on the level of art form.
What is the selection process for joining your group? Are there any plans for mentoring other photographers in Serbia who may just be starting or who are not familiar in working this way?
Colic: At the moment we are handling collective smoothly and don’t feel need for expanding the group. In order to join the Kamerades, a candidate needs a strong visual sense, roll of importance of photography in modern world, someone with distinguished style and long term commitment. No matter how good the candidates are, they need to be team members as well, egoism and selfishness is what we do not tolerate at all. That’s why we feel like family inside the group. No secrets at all.
Considering there is no serious documentary photography done in Serbia ever, we need to reinvent mostly everything. Raise consciousness, promote importance of medium and organize workshops so audience can differentiate value of photography and eventually set up a real value of work. If we can show people levels of quality, they may build a sense that good work has to be shown and awarded. Crucial role of our commitment is strong influence on media owners/editors who need to be engaged and educated to refine the audience with strong visuals, rather than average and poor.
Risovic: As Sasha said, our main goal is communication with broader population. We hope to organize some kind of lectures, presentations and workshops, in order to educate people about existence, place and importance of documentary photography nowadays. Some day we will expand for sure, but at the moment we are still not thinking about it.
What makes this group unique in Serbia? What is unique about Serbian photography?
Milenkovic: Each member tends to show images about something rather than images of something. What set us apart from others is the idea of embracing photography as a visual language for communicating an undistorted image of reality through in-depth reportage. Kamerades have their own style and area of interest while we are all linked by passion for truth, art and humanity. Serbian photography has been pushed under the carpet for a long time and seems no one cares about its legacy and future expansion. But we do care. We have a voice, and we are not going to give up from what we’ve set up in our manifesto. Despite the overall lethargy, there is a need for creative photography, and with Serbia being country in strong transition, we want to addresses changes through critical events and issues in the region. There is no lack of ideas; there is just lack of understanding and will.
Rupena: The most important thing and our uniqueness is that we exist. We are not the only photographers in our country or the best ones, but as far as I know, there is not any other group of professional photographers in Serbia. And not only that we exist but we do also try to be as different as we can trying to present photography in the form that is not very common in our media scene.
Pancic: Photography as an art of communication between the creator and the viewer in Serbia is not at the highest level. In Serbia today, this group is unique in that we managed to succeed in the creation of collective and website. We do not represent ourselves as a group of the best photographers in Serbia, we simply want to introduce ourselves through collective action.
Risovic: There are other great photographers in Serbia, but not many of them are working in this field. There is one more thing: The amount of egoism in Serbian photography is huge and it ruined the scene. We don’t have this kind of problem. Photography is usually one man show, but we as a group are pushing each other. And yes, we compete as well, but not in the bad sense. Basic idea is that together we can do much more than each individually.
How does this group fit in to the Balkans? Are there other collectives in the region?
Colic: We don’t try to fit literally, but to set up the platform for future communication through the photographic medium. The old masters are still present while the new masters are on show. And because we are now involved in professional industry, there is a strong sense of social responsibility shared by every member of Kamerades. A collective called Belgrade Raw showed up back in 2009 [ed: see dvafoto's interview with Belgrade Raw from 2009] presenting alternate street photography of the capital in such a unique way. They are nonprofit, but the way they did some exhibitions and blogs is inspiring even for demanding pros. No other groups of photographers exist at Balkans.
Risovic: Actually, there was an attempt made by several people from Balkan countries. They got to know each other in Berlin, on World Press Photo Masterclass for photographers from Southeastern Europe, and gathered around Balkan photographer’s website. Unfortunately, the website is rather silent lately.
About fitting into Balkans, I think we all know this region very well, and most of us were already producing some work that is strongly connected with Balkan questions and its spirit. We can’t escape from Balkans, and we don’t want to.
Do you have any plans for group projects in the future?
Colic: Sure we do. We just started initially a group project called “Dirty Season”. It is about national concerns of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia. Hopefully we’ll master grant proposals in order to fund our future projects so we can concentrate of building strong body of work that stimulates awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and public action.
Risovic: Group projects are one of the top priorities of Kamerades. We see our chance in promoting our stories mostly through this form. For now, we have many ideas, and we have to find the way to bring them out.
Pancic: Group projects are one of our main priorities; we believe that through joint efforts we can achieve a lot and leave some legacy behind for the future generations at Balkans.
Could you tell me a little more about “Dirty Season” and how it came about?
Colic: We came out with the idea of making a project about importance of the incoming elections in Serbia and applied for a grant through NGO US AID and IREX (Serbian media supporter organization). With the support of Photography Development Center, Kamerades collective pitched the idea of global apathy, disinterest for the political parties after years of Balkan aftermath, as residual Milosevic structures continue to rotate their governments again and again.
With this project we wanted to address causes and reasons of global apathy and desolation, absence of political system development in Serbia and how that affects ordinary people. Basic premise is absolute nonsense of physical and mental poisoning during the pre-election campaign, environmental pollution from posters, billboards, graffiti’s, flyers, slogans, video and audio pressure. We’ve been forced to absorb all this and subconsciously decide who the bad guy is, and who’s not. During the pre-election campaign we stop being humans due to manipulation by cheap demagogy.
By not favoring any parties, we decided to show political scene in modern Serbia as it is: Raw, cruel and full of hypocrisy. So help us God!
So far we have plans to do an exhibition at the end as well as pitch some web platforms to try sell our work worldwide. Until than, it will be available for sale on our web site: www.kamerades.com
Gentlemen, I love the project and wish you all the best with that and the next steps with the collective. I’m looking forward to the book that I hope will come someday soon!