self-portrait from 2009.
A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine told me: “You’ve got an eye for photography. With some training you could easily become a professional.” “I couldn’t. It’s too personal.“, I’ve answered. “Oh, you don’t feel confident or something?“, he continued. “No, the thing is I have a personal relationship with photography, you know, I couldn’t turn something so intimate into a job.“, I replied.
The truth is, as strange it may sound, I do have a personal, deep and complex relationship with practice of photography. So much that at time I personified photography, imagining it as a kind friend who would step into my world to console me and nurture my soul in the darkest, loneliest moments of my life.
When I was kid, my family didn’t own a camera. On special occasions, such as birthdays, they would borrow a camera from a friend and shoot a roll of film. It was no big deal, no one in my family was ever into taking pictures. Until my grandma brought us an auto-instant Keystone camera that she got when visiting family in Australia. The camera took 126 film, a photographer at the local lab called it “Leica” film (pronounced Lajka in Croatian) and I was sure the film was named after Laika, the Soviet space dog. On the front of the camera said MADE IN U.S.A. That sign seemed like magic to me , a kid who grew up in former Yugoslavia and never having anything from U.S. but devouring and loving American films and music. Even though the camera produced really shitty pictures I loved and treasured it. When war broke out in 1991. in my country and my family had to flee my hometown Vukovar, somehow with a weird twist of fate that trashy, plastic camera was one of few objects we took with us. The camera survived.
During the war our family home was completely destroyed. In mid 1990s while Vukovar was still occupied and not a part of Croatian territory, an adventurous Australian cousin decided to sneak into the city. She traveled across Serbia and drove into Vukovar visiting remains of our home. There was nothing left only ruins covered with filth. But she noticed something underneath the dirt: bunch of stripes of film of our family photos. They were wet, dirty and she could still see boot prints on them but she picked them up and brought them with her later giving them to us. We washed the films and even though they were lying in dirt exposed to rain, snow and bright sunlight for several years we could still have all of our family photos developed. The films survived. The images survived.
When I was a teenager I hated school (as most kids do I guess) and I thought most of my classes were incredibly boring. Classroom felt like prison, teachers sucked and my heart was either filled with apathy or pumping with rage. So, to get myself cheered up (or at least a little less bored) I would sometimes bring a camera with me to school to take snapshots of my friends. It was fun and it made sense unlike most of my other activities at the time.
After graduating high school I enrolled into Academy of Fine Arts to study animation hoping this school will suck less than the previous one. It didn’t. I couldn’t fit in and soon I realized I wasn’t born to be an animator. I sucked at classical animation so I thought I might try stop-motion instead. I saved up some money and bought my first digital camera. Once again, magic happened, I feel in love with it and started taking pictures of anything and everything ALL THE TIME. All I wanted to do is press the shutter button over and over again :) On the third year of university I decided to shift my focus from animation to what was called back then “new media art” (to this day I don’t know what that means). I still didn’t like my classes but now at least we had them in a different location (one closer to my home), at a place that had a barely functional darkroom that no one used. Once I tried developing some photo grams there when I overheard a friend from another room “Don’t bother Asja now, she’s in darkroom, developing, you can’t get in there.” “Interesting, I thought, so no one one will bother me while I’m in darkroom? Nice.” Soon it became my sanctuary, a place to hide and avoid classes.
After I graduated from academy, thanks to difficult family situation I got severely depressed. I could barely get out of bed or function. I didn’t know how to get myself out it. I didn’t want to take medications and alternative therapies I tried helped but my progress was very slow. So I took up photography again. I would make myself go outside and shoot, shoot, shoot, I would stand in front of camera and takes self-portraits allowing my images to reflect my inner struggles back at me. It was truly therapeutic. It helped me learn about myself, it helped me face myself, it helped me heal. Photography pulled me out of misery. I survived.
As time went by taking pictures became my daily practice, my passion, my prayer. Even though it took me very long time to learn even the basic camera functions and even though for most of the time pictures I took were truly mediocre I still enjoyed and cherished the process. Also, sharing my images online introduced me to many amazing, wonderful people some of whom became close friends.
Ironically, even though I feel deep connection to photography I don’t really consider myself a photographer ( and even though it says so on my about page for the lack of better expression). I don’t think I will ever consider myself a photographer, I am probably just someone lucky enough and blessed enough to be introduced to practice and magic of photography as a healing and learning tool in darkest moments of my life. And I will keep on shooting :)
self-portraits from 2008.