SNJEZANA JOSIPOVIC is immediately enigmatic. Her voice is such that you feel the words rather than hear them, like an animal’s growl, a kick drum in the dark, or a wave’s crash on rocks. And at the same time she’s sweet and laughs a lot, which covers for the lack of silence. Let me explain. Snjezana’s photographs are engrossing and although varying greatly in theme, content and technical wizardry, the overall feel is one of a vast inner life, bustling with behind-the-scenes activity, yet covered by an invisible veil which renders it all mute, even despite her vivid use of color. It was this intriguing idea of inquietude and underground restlessness that led me to believe (mistakenly so) she would be the same: quiet and demure on the surface while seething underneath. She may definitely be seething at heart, but Snjezana is anything but unable to properly express herself, allowing her powerful images- often of young women in dresses lounging on sofas, people using random pieces of furniture to climb in (or out of?) windows, and sparse landscapes which are often over- and under-exposed, punctuated by light leaks, softly-focused, double-exposed and taken with off kilter composition, the overarching theme of, among other things, youth running amok amidst the ruins of the old- to speak for her. Some of it is commissioned work while much is her playing at self-portraiture, yet even in her alluring shots for European fashion magazines there is still that pervasive sense of what she calls “the beautiful process” of the perpetual amateur. As Alfred Eisenstaedt said when talking about photography, “Every professional should remain always in his (or her) heart an amateur.” Snjezana has become the consummate professional by playing the amateur, giving her a style uniquely her own.
Among her many photographic series, and alongside her major documentation of the individual, there are recurring motifs suggestive of travel, vistas representing the void and the vast expanse before us all, which her numerous images of passengers on trains, landscapes taken through foggy windows and long exposures of city life attest to. Yet overall there seems to be an intimacy in each of her images, whether up close with friends and family or from a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. HESO figured that since the Tokyo – Zagreb Express bus line has been down for some time now, we would have to talk on the phone, that old thing. Snjezana, which means “Snow White” in Croatian, was more than willing.I am restless. This is what pushes me, makes me go forward, to figure out things about myself in… Click To Tweet
Interview with SNJEZANA JOSIPOVIC
HESO: Hi Snjezana, You are from Croatia and live in Zagreb. What is it like in summer? Winter?
Snjezana Josipovic: Typical Zagreb summertime: the whole city becomes slower than usual, emptier, hotter…with beautiful light in the mornings and evenings. Zagreb is a central European climate: hot summers, cold winters. One or two hours from here is the Mediterranean Sea, a whole different place, a few hours away are the Alps, a completely different climate. Just like all the different cultures around here we have so many climates within close distance to each other.
HM: Central Europe is a confluence of cultures, especially Croatia, isn’t it?
SJ: I like when there are a lot of differences. It is not boring for me. Croatia is a pretty new country. After Yugoslavia fell apart, well…this is also kind of political which I don’t really want to go into, but Zagreb is very centralized. The population of Croatia is maybe 4.5 million and almost 1 million people live in Zagreb. We have a lot of influence from Italy, Turkey, Austria, actually Zagreb is called Little Vienna and here is the center of everything- schools, universities, arts. Of course there is the coast and the islands, which are beautiful, but are uninteresting for me photographically. I see so many other things I would like to make photos of. My experience is what is important to me. This kind of natural beauty in those places you see in all the photos of Croatia are in someway not real. Nothing is real.
What I find interesting is my private experience. If I go to Paris it could be the Eiffel Tower or it could be a window in Paris, in Vienna, in Zagreb, you know, I don’t show the touristic point of view, but it doesn’t matter in the end. It is interesting for me to travel but in the end it doesn’t influence my photography, which is strange but I just like the feeling of movement.
HM: Speaking of influences…
SJ: Considering influences when you work is like having a kind of border around you. When you work it is important to be free. I don’t like to think before I make a photo.
HM: Can you tell me what life was like as a little girl growing up in Croatia?
SJ: The things I remember – beautiful images of me playing on the street with my friends or going to Bosnia to see my father and seeing the few houses on the hills, it’s a very idyllic version of childhood to remember, because when the war started, well, I was very lucky not to have experienced very much of the war but what I did see stayed in my head because many changes took place. At that point some part of my idealistic childhood stopped and I had to grow up. Not only outside influences but also things inside of me were changing at that time. So that time probably changed the course of my life forever, but in a positive way.
HM: When did you first pick up a camera?
SJ: I have no idea really. I guess when I was quite young. But if you mean when did I first pick it up with intention to express myself and to make something creative, it was sometime in 2005. First I was playing with some digital camera we had at home, and with Photoshop…then I discovered film, and fell in love with it!
HM: Can you give me some mental images that you often carry around with you when you are taking photographs? What do you see?
SJ: I do have a kind of chaos in my head, a mixture of images and information, thoughts and wishes, dreams and reality. It can be a beautiful mess though. But when it comes to making something creative from that, from those, let’s call them, mental images, I think I get somehow paralyzed from it. But when I let it all go, and try to leave my head empty, it feels like I have many more possibilities, like all borders are gone and anything can happen. When I see something I want to make photos of, it just happens in a second or less, it can be because I liked the green color of the tree at the moment, because I am in a great mood, anything really. And the most beautiful part for me is the process, and never knowing until I see the photo how it will really look, and hoping I will like it when I see it, but even if I don’t I enjoyed the process of making it. That is the point for me.
A little bit of that spontaneity gets lost when I have to take photographs for work (: (I guess I must use some mental images then, just to make it all easier for me, because I don’t have much time for playing and exploring then).
Lately I’ve been trying to make some more conceptual work, I’m trying to organize the mess in my head and make some of those thoughts and ideas more concrete. I want to move myself from where I feel comfortable, and that is making everything totally spontaneously.
HM: Do you think of self-portraits as different photography than your other work? Is it more personal for you when taking photos of yourself or working with mirrors? Does that suggest something to you?
SJ: My self-portraits are different from my other work as much as my portraits are different from my landscapes or from my geometry shapes series. Anyway that self-portrait thing is like a game I use to play often when I was little. I liked to look at my self in the mirror and pretend I could see an actress, a dancer or singer, a teacher, or a mom. I could see everything I wanted. Probably I am still like that, and my self-portraits are nothing but a game.
HM: From your photography I get a sense of two Europes trying to balance against one another, one of an older, more conservative tradition that has seen its share of bloodshed and hardship and that of a younger, more vibrant world where youth seeks to make its mark. Is it more what you are taking photos of or the way you are taking them?
SJ: Those are mostly people and situations around me. Something catches my eye and I want to make a photo of it. The feelings in the photos probably talk most about me, though I never analyze my work that much. Often, mostly earlier, it was like I wanted to be part of my subjects, emotionally I mean. I could somehow understand it well, feel it, but I could never really be a part of it. It was like first I detached myself from it to come closer to it. And then make the photo.
So as much as I wanted to be it I didn’t really want to have some real attachment to it. Some connection is always there, but somehow I left some space empty to fill it with all the other things that are probably more important for me at the moment. And those are maybe some uncomfortable feelings, emptiness, loneliness, or maybe there is just nothing. I like to put my subject in silent “spaces” to see what it brings. Silence makes it uncomfortable or the total opposite.
And then…what is there is there, what I see is there, what I feel is there. It may be real or not. Everything is so relative, what we see, what we experience. And I believe that is the only truth in my photos.
My photos, the mood, the motifs…To make photos in this fashion, they feel closer to me, though I don’t necessarily do anything on purpose, but somehow I do do it on purpose. It seems warmer to me, like it’s a part of me. When I make photos of a stranger I want it to look like it’s a part of me. I don’t like working in a detached way. Which is why I use film, why I use older cameras, it’s the whole process of doing it, knowing the model, using the film, which I really have no idea what will come out in development. It takes a week for me to see what I get on film and well, it’s not important for me to know immediately if what I get will be good or bad, because for me it always turns out ok somehow. Of course it’s possible that I’m not satisfied with the result but I like this process.
HM: That’s interesting. Looking through your photos, there is a sense of a powerful personal aspect at work here.
SJ: That is intentional, because I do make photos for myself. And because of myself and maybe, I don’t know, but I’m trying to find something out about myself. Then comes everything else. It is that connection between what I see and what I am, I guess the two dialogues, internal and external. It is also that I don’t like to talk about some things, so I make a photo. Or I draw, whatever, it’s hard for me to express some feelings with words. It’s much easier to try to make a photo…but it doesn’t have to begin and end with photography. I was studying painting in high school, fashion and graphic design in college. I like to change things to see where I can communicate best with the world. I don’t think you should have boundaries in your work and this is where some mixed media work of mine has come from. This is just a game, just playing to try to figure out how things work in life, my little investigations, human perception. I don’t like to stop. People’s reactions are really interesting, but for me they are unnecessary.
HM: Words often aren’t enough.
SJ: That and maybe, I don’t know how to use them right (laughs).
HM: I showed your photography to a friend and he said they looked sad and indifferent. Whereas I see a kind of ambivalent energy about to burst from the seams. How do you choose your subject matter?
SJ: Well I hear this a lot- about some kind of melancholy feeling, but I don’t really think about it, as if, “Oh today I’m sad, so time to make a photo…” I just do it and as I said earlier they are first for me and I can’t really know how such and such photo will affect someone else. But anything is possible, because these are all individual interpretations. I think if someone sees that a photo is sad that is their own sadness, not mine.
Of course everyone would want to see photos of, oh I don’t know, flowers or puppies or something but, we are taught that those images are “happy” and these things are what make a good life. When you see a photo that is the opposite of that, well I’m sure that can seem lonely somehow. But isn’t that all a part of life?
HM: I see a lot of sensuality in your photography. There is a subtle and provocative sense of sexuality running through much of your work, mostly alluding to alternative lifestyles or women in general. Is this something that you are specifically trying to show or is it unintentional?
SJ: I would say it is more unintentional. But sexuality could be something I pay much attention to, and I guess it is noticeable often in my work. Yes, there are many pretty young people in my work, but a lot of this is some fashion work that I do. What is interesting to me is to try to do something different than typical fashion photography, something more personal. But of course, any time you see pretty young girls in dresses it is a bit sexual. That may be unintentional but is also something I don’t go out of my way to avoid. This is also getting to be a bit boring for me.
HM: What, my questions?
SJ: Ha ha, no no, this kind of photography. Staying in the same place all the time and making the same photo over and over again. If I must shoot fashion why not make it more spontaneous. Of course, fashion people, art directors jobs are there to prepare a scene, but it’s very posed. Nothing against that, but for me this is why in the past three or four months I’ve stepped back a bit from fashion and am just making photos, snapshots really, of wherever I am, wherever I walk, because it’s more honest. It’s all about honesty.
HM: That’s something that all artists have to deal with at some point.
SJ: It’s the sort of Catch-22 of photography. You start to make photos because you really love doing it but then at some point it becomes work with someone ordering you around like a robot, “Do this, do that!” It loses the beauty of the whole process, the fun.
HM: You seem to be interested in design. I’ve noticed various shapes, triangles, squares, showing up on some recent photographs. Particularly striking is what you have been doing pairing two photographs together, often juxtaposing humans and natural settings in diptychs. Do you feel constrained by the single square image?
Oh, well, those geometry shapes had nothing to do with design really, although I am interested in design (Laughs). They were connected to a little research project called, let’s say, “Impossible Objects.” I was little bit curious how people would react when they saw them, because (the shapes) look so unnatural, artificial, or surreal… and we don’t expect those objects to really be part of nature. Also to put them in the photo like they were really there is almost ridiculous. But for me it makes so much sense, like it is real, or like I created new reality. (Laughs)
“The philosophy of mathematics overlaps with metaphysics because some positions are realistic in the sense that they hold that mathematical objects really exist, whether transcendentally, physically, or mentally.”
This sentence is taken from Wikipedia, just to give you insight of the meaning, of some of my thoughts behind that geometry series. Oh yes, and about my diptychs, I never really feel constrained with single frame images. At the point when I was making more diptychs it just seemed as if those photos made much more sense together, like putting totally different segments into one story finished them.
HM: You alternate between color and black and white. It is a conscious choice, a feeling or something else that guides you toward one or the other?
SJ: Sometimes it is conscious, sometimes I put color film in one camera, black and white in another one, and make photos of same subject, because I like to see differences, how the result changes when using different films, or even different cameras. I have a Holga, a Hasselblad- using different film, black and white, color. I don’t like to talk about whether something is good or bad, those things mean nothing to me, but about digital photography, which I have nothing against, but what they are trying to do is to make technically more perfect photos, whatever that means, but I don’t think that a photo is better or worse simply because it’s in focus. It’s funny to me. The only important thing in photography is that you are saying what you want to say, for yourself. That the best photo is the one that is technically perfect is crazy. These boundaries are unnecessary, but this is what people do, categorize things, and then everyone feels at ease. This may work for TV, where people are passive and receive information and then, “Ok, great!” and no one has to think. That is what I don’t like personally about anything. (Laughs) That sounds so funny when I say it in English. We are all taught what is good or bad, taught to feel safe, secure. But in the end we all know that this is not what life is about.
HM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
SJ: I don’t think about the future. I’m trying to make everything good right now without being concerned with the past or the future. I used to be obsessed with the future and I was depressed. I’m not the person that I want a perfect life with perfect job and a perfect family. I don’t know what I want in those terms and sometimes that is frightening. I just know that I want to make what makes me happy now and that is photography. It ‘s not always easy, you know, we need money, jobs, compromises, it’s not easy, so I’m not putting too much pressure on the future. Baby steps.
I am restless. This is what pushes me, makes me go forward, to figure out things about myself in the world, what is behind what I see and feel. It isn’t always comfortable but it helps me keep moving.