Enough for a Couple of Lifetimes
Ana Opalić: I’m very curious about how you do your work … you take your time, do it on the go, creating several series simultaneously, and then you transfer the photos from one series to another? Tell me something about your work on the series Pie in the Sky [Golub na grani]. How long did it take you to come up with that title?
Marko Ercegović: I didn’t have it right till the end. I envisioned this series as a series of photographs that meant something to me and I didn’t care whether they would mean anything to anyone else; I just had this collection of photos which were particularly dear to me … without even knowing the reason why. Or without having an apparent reason. What I do know is that these photos provoked this tiny feeling…when I was shooting or now when I watch them…a feeling of affection….which you feel in your fingers, you know, like you’re reaching for…a pie in the sky. So I created this collection guided by that feeling. And the title…well, I had dreadfully traumatic experiences with titles.
A. O.: I find your titles to be excellent; I’m always enviousbecause it seems you come up with them with ease.
M. E.: No, it takes work! I have written pages of potential titles, unlike Boris (Cvjetanović, A/N) who does it with ease and simplicity. I’m often jealous cause he does it better than me. That is roughly the difference between us two as photographers. How we come up with our titles. I’m always in some agony, thinking it through, restless andunderslept. I’m not talking about some serious insomnia issues but…I can’t fall asleep so I think about it. And Boris makes it look so easy and simple.
A. O.: Is there a difference in how you created the series Pie in the Sky and the series Where We Live [Gdje mi živimo]?
M. E.: In a way, all my series are Where We Live, because of a simple reason that I always shoot where I live and, actually, I cannot shoot were I’m not residing. You simply have to be there while you’re shooting. So, in this sense, this series is sort of self-ironic and, at the same time, it is a part of my continuous work within my surrounding. I have never planned a trip to somewhere where I had to shoot. You know, like you go somewhere and shoot something in particular and that is supposed to be some kind of a ‘project’ after which you put away your camera. I always shoot where I live, continuously, and then I stuff the photos into some folders, and there’s chaos arising from all the material. You can find all sorts of photos in the folders; there are photos of my cat, of what I cooked and all sorts of memorabilia…You know how it goes…And then, I simply create my collections out of that material.
A. O.: So it’s kind of a director’s cut?
M. E.: It’s not directing; it’s montage. Editing, organizing. Something like that. It’s fun in a way because I observe how these photographs look next to each other, what is their relationship, what’s going on between them. It’s more of a research on an experimental level to find out the reason why I should put two photos together. In that sense, this series has this ostensible quality presented in a sort of ironic way. On the one hand, the series is ‘justified’ cause it was shot in one neighbourhood, at one locality, around my building, including my flat, my kid and so on. On the other hand, it’s not at all about the neighbourhoodbecause, in a way, it wasn’t even captured on camera. It’s difficult to find a photo in this series which represents anything in the representational, narrative sense. I was more interested in the change of the visuals which occurred with my relocation to another neighbourhood, because Novi Zagreb (where I used to live) looks entirely different.
It’s this basic drive to get to know everything when you come to a new place. You like some things which in time you won’t even notice. Moreover, you like what makes that neighbourhood characteristic, in comparison to Trnsko. It is urbanized in a bizarre way; it’s some kind of an experiment from the 90’s where they attempted to bring about this strange urbanization. There you can find the old houses from the 60’s, the new buildings, and the neglected greenery and the general shabbiness of everything that surrounds you. It was beautiful and interesting to me so this is how this series came to be. But in fact, what is important to me and, actually more important than anything else is the idea of photography. This is an issue which I tackled the most in this work. This is a part of a process and something which I will continue to address. But I don’t believe that I’m going to make another photo series on my neighbourhood.
A. O.: When we were setting up the work, you told me that you perceived it as a collection of stories which you arrange and rearrange?
M. E.: That’s the case when I’m setting up the exhibition at a gallery. Every gallery is different, each wall is different. The relations are changing; the perception is different. You have to take into account the audience who’s moving within that space. You can create some small sub-collections, depending on the length of the wall, and that is where a new level of reading occurs. I’m actually doing it for my own sake and not for the audience’s. I’m just trying out how it looks like on the wall and which effects it produces.
Sandra Križić Roban: So that means that every time the story is different?
M. E.: Well…it is and it isn’t. The editing changes, but the narration stays the same. Like a movie which you can edit in several different ways, but the story stays the same. Every time I adopt a different approach, have a different reason for doing something, because I’m the one who has changed. Some time has passed, I feel differently, my concentration changed.
S. K. R.: To what extent is your approach based on the visual, and to what extent does it depend on your current mood or experiences? It seems to me that this series in not about this particular place, even though it can be recognized on the bases of its tectonics which differs from Novi Zagreb.I think it is experientially different from your previous work. I experienced it as a place toward which you hold a certain unbridgeable distance; you didn’t approach it in a way as you did the places with which you were more familiar. To which extent is that specific place even important? Is it only coincidental, while the real story is about something else?
M. E.: I mean…I live there now, so it is at that moment when you have to accept that that place is going to become a part of you. We’replanning to stay there for a while, so that place is going to shape us in a way, change us. Maybe it the way in which we come to accept who we are. What I find interesting are ‘the circumstances under which things come to be’. They have a character of their own, and it is that character which I’m exploring. Frane Rogić knows what I mean. Frane grew up there!
A. O.: What do you think Frane? How well did he describe the neighbourhood?
Frane Rogić: Well, I like the way it was shot because he didn’t only capture the urbanization, but…as if he capture the spirit of the neighbourhood, the places of emptiness, which have a different meaning all together.
A. O.: I’m left with a sense of your appropriation of the place. Even you, Marko, are somehow more present in this photos; your state of mind is more intriguing to me than the place itself. What do you think, if you were to shoot the same places again, what would be different?
M. E.: Well, the difference is that I’m more disengagednow. Maybe it would be interesting to repeat the process in a couple of years.
A. O.: How frustrated are you, as a Croatian photographer, with the state of our ‘art’ photography? Do you think you could do something more or different if you had the same working conditions as, for example, the Western European photographers of your status?
M. E.: I wouldn’t be a better photographer. Perhaps I would be happier, but then again, who knows…I would love to – really love to – if I could only make photos, and nothing else. You become a better photographer by making more photos; it is a legitimate fact in photography. The more you shoot the quality of your photos increases. I would love to be able to shoot more, then I would be better, that’s for sure. Just imagine, you wake up and say: “This is the day when I will only take photos and do absolutely nothing else and think about nothing else”.
But then again…I love that feeling of being like a prisoner who has to make do somehow, to find little windows of free time to take photos. When you have to make do, and you manage to accomplish something…while you’re on your way to the store or, for example, today…I have to be at the Ministry at 4, but before that I have to inflate my bike tires around 3. And I’m having coffee with you at 4:30…Which gives me a whole hour to inflate the tires and shoot! This is my only window of opportunity. I have to make do. This is the only time you have; there’s not more of it on your disposal.
I have developed my own methods to make the best out of the time I have. For example, when I’m walking the dog, I go where he goes! Because a dog always wonders, a dog comes to a corner and looks at you – left or right? And sometimes it wants to go where it wants to go. And then you follow it!
I mean…the photographer and his trajectory…You just have to let things run their own course. You have to harmonize with it. I mean, the photographer has to harmonize with the world around him.
S. K. R.: Could you, in a similar way, create photos of places where you haven’t been before? What kind of experiences could be expected if you shot somewhere where you just travelled to, and where you don’t live? Would you even make photos of such a place? Is it possible to achieve this kind of an introspection which you obviously possess in your series Where We Live [Gdje mi živimo]?
M. E.: At this moment, and this is the irony of this series, it makes no difference to me where I’m at in order to make a photo which interests me. In a way, it doesn’t even matter what is in the photo. In the sense of the content itself. The camera takes care of that. Where We Live is actually a series made by the camera and not me. It’s just the content that this machine collected, because it is always impartial. Something external to me. I remember the street where I grew up. I started working in photography at a very early age and the same problem which troubles all other photographers also troubled me. So, if I go down my street every single day, and I can’t go anywhere else, it is simply because this is my life and I cannot escape it any more than I can escape myself. I simply cannot distance myself from it; I cannot think of an art which is more dependent on the fact that you have to be present There in order to shoot It. Eachand every photography is a proof that the photographer has been There. And that’s crucial. And that’s what interests me. For example, my street could be very beautiful to a tourist, but I find it unsightly and photographically uninteresting. I passed it every day, taking my camera with me, when going for a swim or waking the dog, on my way to school or whatnot. And every day I would take my camera with me trying to solve this problem.
The street might not change, but the light does, and so do the weather conditions and the people and the cars passing through it; the trees grow, braches break off, they tumble down…and I also change. I then I realized that there are so many factors simultaneously at work, and that there were so many things changing and that this one street was quite enough, sufficient enough to just record it my whole life, even though it is actually quite uninteresting. So, for example, if I were to shoot two streets, that would mean as twice as much. To shoot the whole neighbourhood…that seemed enough for a couple of lifetimes. And I believe it was.
A. O.: Posavec said a similar thing once. Marina Viculin told me about it. She even probably wrote about it.
M. E.: In time, the audience might become bored by observing my street time and again, but the problem won’t resolve itself by trying to please the audience.
A. O.: You once told me how you ‘how you flourished since you got rid of your analogue camera’. I understand why that is when I see the way you shoot and how you move with the camera. Are you burdened by the limits of the film? Just as you immerse yourself, the film is at its end? What has changed since you began working with a digital camera?
M. E.: I started to do colour photography. That was the biggest change. I didn’t do colour photography on film because I couldn’t develop the photos. It was very expensive so I did only black-and-white photography. Not because it was beautiful or romantic, but because it was the only technology I could afford.
A. O.: And control the whole process…
M. E.: Yes, you create your own photographs. When the digital camera was introduced, I began working in colour. It was the biggest change I ever experienced. I can create more photos and be more relaxed. I couldnever understand the principle ‘think first, shoot later’. The constraints of the film made you think first because you had only 36, 12 or 10 more shots left and would cost you an arm and a leg, so you better think first! I first shoot and think later. This is essential to me. I think that all photographers who mean something to me, or who were important, would have been thrilled to have had a digital camera in their day.
Photography is a medium of speed. The material itself is not essential to photography in a sense that it has to be on some phenomenal paper and made with an amazing camera. It is as though you were to say that good sex only counts if it’s done on a good bed. It’s absolutely irrelevant with what you shoot and how you enlarge it, as long as you know what you want.
* The interview was conducted in Klovićevi Dvori Gallery, on 15 September 2015, during the exhibition This is (not) my world.
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