SEE New Perspectives Masterclass

In 2010, fifteen young South-East European photographers and three masters met in Berlin for the SEE New Perspectives masterclass, organized by World Press Photo and Robert Bosch Stiftung. After the first meeting in Berlin all of the photographers were given a grant to photograph a story within the region but outside of their home country.

The resulting projects are now being exhibited in Belgrade, Serbia (on display until December 14 at the ARTGET gallery on Trg Republike) after debuting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in October. The show will soon move to Zagreb, Croatia and Berlin, Germany. The exhibition features an interesting concept of displaying oversized “magazines” each devoted to one photographer’s project, with only one image from each project along with the photographer’s name on the wall.

You can see all of the stories produced in the masterclass on the SEE New Perspectives website as well as more information about the organization of the project.

The photographers are:
Andrei Pungovschi, Romania
Armend Nimani, Kosovo
Bevis Fusha, Albania
Dženat Dreković, Serbia
Eugenia Maximova, Bulgaria
Ferdi Limani, Kosovo
Jasmin Brutus, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jetmir Idrizi, Kosovo
Marko Risović, Serbia
Nemanja Pančić, Serbia
Octav Ganea, Romania
Petrut Calinescu, Romania
Sanja Jovanović (née Knežević), Serbia
Tomislav Georgiev, Macedonia
Vesselina Nikolaeva, Bulgaria

And the Tutors are:
Regina Anzenberger, Austria, artist, curator, photographer’s agent, gallerist
Silvia Omedes, Spain, president at Photographic Social Vision Foundation
Donald Weber, Canada, photographer VII Agency

I asked my old friend Jasmin Brutus, a Bosnian photographer who was part of the masterclass, to paraphrase the statement he gave at the Sarajevo opening which expresses his feelings about the years-long masterclass project: “We [the participating photographers] all returned with nice small toolbox which our employers will never know how to utilize. So, I think experience in the masterclass is very useful for my personal projects and for my job is almost useless. I gained new skills and my old skills got enhanced. But, for me the most important thing is that I met a group of really great people and great photographers.”

Congratulations to my friends from around the region who were able to take part in this interesting project and many of whom were able to produce terrific photo stories that may otherwise never have seen light or been published. I encourage you to explore the work published on the SEE New Perspectives site or peruse the photographers’ own websites linked above.

The video below features interviews with all of the photographers about their work and experience in the masterclass:

SEE New Perspectives from Balkan Photographers from World Press Photo on Vimeo.

Dirty Season: a group project by new Serbian photojournalism collective Kamerades

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.

Behind the Scenes: Donald Weber’s new book Interrogations

Donald Weber has a new book of his work in Ukraine and Russia, to be released in Fall 2011 by Schilt Publishing. We asked him to give us a preview of his pictures and book dummies alongside his ideas on publishing and developing projects. As part of the funding for the project Weber is currently selling collector’s editions and a special advanced version of the book via the Interrogations Book website. Weber is a VII Network photographer from Toronto and often teaches workshops, and is hosting on July 21st and 22nd 2011 a workshop on grant writing in Berlin. Dvafoto previously interviewed Weber in December 2008 when he was living in Kiev and in the midst of the photography and travels that would become this book.

Could you introduce the work featured in your new book Interrogations
Following an exploratory trip to Chernobyl in 2005, I soon returned to the abandoned site of the nuclear disaster and spent the next seven years in Russia and Ukraine photographing the ruins of the unstoppable storm we call history. Traveling and living with ordinary people who had survived much, had survived everything, this project begins to see the modern State as a primitive and bloody sacrificial rite of unnamed Power.

Interrogations is the result of my personal quest to uncover the hidden meaning of the bloody 20th Century. In dialogue with friend and writer Larry Frolick – whose own ancestors had been decimated in the final months of WW II – I insistently and provocatively address questions both to the living survivors and to the ghosts of the State’s innumerable victims, resurrecting their final hours by taking their point of view, and performing a kind of incantatory meditation over their private encounters with Power.

The policemen, working girls, thugs, dissidents and hustlers who inhabit these pages are all orphans of a secret History; the outlines of our collective fate takes shape in this epic work, expanding our awareness of what it means to be an actor in today’s dark opera.

How did the idea for a book of this work come about? How did it change over time?
Stalin famously said, “I am not concerned with how the court of History will judge our current deeds.” I found this a fascinatingly provocative statement, and one that goes right to the heart of who I am as a photographer. I began seeing my role as that of the court of History, another somebody who could examine the deeds of History and present it to an audience. I am much more concerned with making pictures about something rather than of something. As I delved deeper and deeper into my work, I became inspired by the writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Varlam Shalamov and Vasily Grossman, all artists who reveal the incantatory slogans of History and their dark meanings.

So, I started to investigate and examine not just the subject matter I was interested in, but the methods of how best to present that work. I felt these writers to be an inspiration and thus the ideas of the book really began to reveal themselves. I see the role of a photographer not just as a creator of visual narrative, but also a communicator of ideas and people and places and subjects that can be explored much like a novelist explores certain themes. With this in mind, a book was the only obvious way forward.

I cannot say I set out to photograph what I photographed, in fact my original ideas were quite different then what you see in the book. I am an instinctual photographer, I rarely travel with a plan in mind, I prefer moving through a space not just intellectually but through my stomach and my heart. It’s only when I start seeing things, talking to people, getting involved and gaining a little knowledge about the place do the real ideas begin. It’s the same in editing, I lay a bunch of small prints on the floor and I just sit surrounded by them on the floor, the pictures reveal themselves and the places they want to be.

I had a great discussion with Teun van der Heijden, the designer of the book, back in January when we were starting the layout. He wanted the book to be the entire series of Interrogations, as did Maarten Schilt and a few others. I think my ego was a little hurt – I thought, I have spent 6 years in Siberia and Ukraine, wandering in some pretty dark places, and suddenly all this work will never be seen? But then I had a realization that because I spent these six years, these years of frustration and toil and a lot of personal sacrifice, that I could go and make this Interrogations series, that this experience allowed me to get to where I really needed to be. In the end, it’s not totally Interrogations literally, but also a very beautiful “prologue” of the spaces and people that inhabit the interrogation room, the conditions that could foster this type of treatment. I couldn’t be prouder of the direction it has taken.

The title refers, of course, not only to the confrontation of a vast uniformed apparatus and its trembling subjects as a historical set-piece, if not a ritual public ceremony, but, more cogently, to the role of the photographer in the 21st Century as an eye-witness and social critic. The answer, of course, lies in the work itself. The work either satisfies our instinct for truth, or it doesn’t. Fieldwork is the crucible of ambition.

How did you go about getting in to the process of having it published? How did you find a designer and publisher to work with?
I made an initial list (I am an inveterate list maker) of all the publishers I wished to work with. I examined their back lists and looked for books that matched not just the conceptual values of my work, but also the physical values of a book that I admire. From there, I sort of whittled the list down to about seven publishers that I felt would make a good partner. I initially trained as an architect and so I was used to collaboration; in fact one of the things I loathe most about a lot of photography books, is essentially they just become monographs of the photographers greatest images. A book should have plot and character, foreshadowing, knowledge, conflict and redemption, all the ingredients that make up a good story, but also be socially engaged, say something. I always asked myself “What do you want to say?”