Everyday life of a Place Marked by War
Mario Topić studied at the Academy of Dramatic Art, where he completed his undergraduate studies in Cinematography, after which he enrolled the New Media graduate program at the Academy of Fine Arts. He established himself by shooting for newspapers and TV stations such as The Denver Post, Forbes, Focus, Meridijani and HRT. He also worked on various commercial projects as the director of photography. In addition to numerous group exhibitions, we should also mention that he won the main prize tree years in a row in the category of documentary photography at the Rovinj Photodays.
His Untitled series of nine black-and-white analogue photographs opened the new season of Snapshot in Kula Lotrščak, providing the occasion for this interview.
How did the process of working on this series develop? What did you want to communicate with it and why was it left untitled?
I was hired by the European Commission, together with other ten photographers from the European Union to create our own vision of Palestine where we spent fourteen days at the turn of 2013. There were also ten Palestinian photographers working with us, after which we organized an exhibition, first in Palestine and then in Brussels.
This isn’t a sort of an exhibition which could bear having a title. I dislike imposing titles unless they contribute something to the exhibition itself. I didn’t know how to name it, and besides, I didn’t want it to sound like a title taken from a school essay. The description of the work is more important, so, those who are interested will read it.
The photographs show violence and poverty in black and white; they are evidential. At the same time, this economic and political horror looks fashionable in a way. How is that possible?
Personally, the worst thing for me – and I’ve been to, tentatively speaking, some much worse places like Iraq and Kosovo – is that this conflict has been ongoing since 1948. Children are born into this atmosphere, and the way things are going, it seems that they won’t live to see it end. They don’t have passports or citizenship which would enable them to immigrate to some other county. I wanted to show their everyday life. They are living under tragic circumstances, but in the meantime, they have to keep on living, going through everyday motions like the rest of us who are not condemned to live within such an atmosphere. The photographs are black and white because I had little time to shoot them and it was easier to incorporate them into one visual whole. On the other hand, I wanted to give people what they expect when they hear about this subject; I wanted to remind the audience that these photos come from a place which needs helps from the rest of the world while this help is not being provided. The European Union gives billions to social aid, while they support the policies which sustain this situation. I could talk for hours about the injustices that I’ve witnessed.
Outside the context of photography, how would you describe the situation today in Palestine?
The absurdity of the whole story is that the worst things I’ve heard, those which I’ve not witnessed myself, came from the Westerners who live there, and from the local people, of course. This shows all the subjectivity and objectivity of those who tell you these things. To this day, people still live in concentration camps which have developed into settlements. You were born and reside in a refugee camp which has existed for more than 50 years. There are no natural resources within current Palestinian borders, and still, Israel wants this territory because of pride, ideological, symbolic or religious reasons, which I find most absurd.
What do you think about the role of a photographer who comes to an unknown territory and interprets only one side of a complex situation?
Compared to a written word, photography is much less subjected to interpretation. Everyone who sees these photographs are free to interpret them. What has been recorded are documented facts; the wider context is another story.
Do you feel the burden of ethical and moral decision that you had to make by shooting within that surrounding?
I feel responsible because this is a responsible job, but I believe that if I follow the standard code of my profession, I can avoid getting caught in a tricky situation. Ultimately, my photographs don’t deal with a political background but with the everyday life of a certain place. Which political side you take is already predetermined by your inheritance and cultural background; they are difficult to change by any argument.
How did you get informed about the situation before you went there to photograph it? Did you receive any guidelines from the European Union about the things you should pay special attention to?
I didn’t get any special guidelines. I got informed in detail on the matters of security, and then on the whole situation, history, current politics, culture and so on.
What do you think about the public’s interest in viewing the pain of others, to paraphrase Susan Sontag? Are we, as audience, insensitive to the images which come to us from distant places in which we are not emotionally engaged?
The photographs from this series do not show direct casualties; they deal with the everyday circumstances and the way of life marked by years of suffering. I agree with Sontag’s claim, however, I don’t believe this should be the reason to stop recording and documenting war. Throughout history, the war photography helped immensely in forming the anti-war sentiment and provoked a reaction in countless instances. In my opinion, it is precisely because of photography that today’s informed people do not perceive war as a romantic and heroic adventure.
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