Seize the lens

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Paul Wei­de­man I The New Mex­i­can

On the Street, Rov­inj, Croa­tia, 2009 is a com­pelling pho­to­graph. Stanko Abadzic˘ cap­tured an in­ti­mate scene some­what rem­i­nis­cent of the set of the Al­fred Hitch­cock film Rear Win­dow. We see stone steps be­tween a street and build­ings pep­pered with mostly shut­tered win­dows, linens dry­ing on lines be­tween the build­ings — and a lone, sil­hou­et­ted fig­ure about to dis­ap­pear from the light into dark shad­ows.

It could be a text­book ex­am­ple of the “decisive mo­ment” im­ages made by Henri Cartier-Bres­son. “Cer­tainly yes,” Abadzic˘ said in an e-mail in­ter­view from Paris. “Old-school pho­tog­ra­phers such as Bres­son, Willy Ronis, Kertész, Mo­holyNagy be­came my role mod­els. In a cer­tain way their pho­tos are doc­u­ments of a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of time, but at the same time they are time­less, in­cor­po­rat­ing both uni­ver­sal beauty and aes­thet­ics. Such im­ages touch deeply my emo­tions and lead me to ad­ven­ture and jour­ney.”

A se­lec­tion of Abadzic’s˘ black-and-white gelatin sil­ver prints ap­pears in a group ex­hi­bi­tion at Verve Gallery of Photography. The show, which also fea­tures works by Julio Bit­ten­court and Michael Crouser, opens with a re­cep­tion on Fri­day, Jan. 22.

Abadzic˘ was born in Vuko­var, Croa­tia, in 1952, and by the time he was 15, he was teach­ing him­self photography. “At first it was ado­les­cent cu­rios­ity, and pos­sess­ing a cam­era meant priv­i­lege in those days,” he said. “I’ve got one Rus­sian cam­era, Smena 8, from my fa­ther, and I still pre­serve it care­fully. It is a very sim­ple, easy-to-han­dle cam­era, but thanks to this cam­era I rec­og­nized that the photo is made by one who is be­hind the cam­era and who could make great im­ages, if he is creative.”

He made use of his skills work­ing as a re­porter and pho­to­jour­nal­ist af­ter he mar­ried. In 1991, when war broke out fol­low­ing Croa­tia’s dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence from Yu­goslavia, Abadzic˘ and his fam­ily sought refuge in Ger­many. They were there for four years, but the gov­ern­ment de­nied them cit­i­zen­ship, and they were ob­li­gated to de­part. They re­lo­cated to Prague. There Abadzic˘ the pho­tog­ra­pher, who had had few op­por­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice his craft in Ger­many, came alive. He said photography was cathar­tic dur­ing that time of alien­ation. “It en­abled me to find bal­ance in my own life, i.e. in a new mi­lieu and new liv­ing con­di­tions.”

As it turned out, many of his best im­ages were made in Prague, which he has of­ten re­vis­ited since mov­ing back to Za­greb, Croa­tia, in 2002. To­day he is rep­re­sented by Verve Gallery as well as by John Cleary Gallery in Hous­ton and Con­tem­po­rary Works in Chal­font, Penn­syl­va­nia. He has had solo shows at the Mi­mara Mu­seum in Za­greb and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art Dubrovnik, as well as in gal­leries around the world.

Dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary of this year, Abadzic˘ is vis­it­ing and pho­tograph­ing Paris. “It is a big chal­lenge for me to por­tray the city where my role mod­els worked and lived,” he said. When he re­turns to Croa­tia, the pho­tog­ra­pher plans to show se­lect im­ages from the Paris neg­a­tives— a “por­trait of the city”— in an exhibit ti­tled Sketches and to pub­lish them in a book.

Al­though he em­ploys a dig­i­tal cam­era for com­mer­cial jobs, his fine-art photography is done the old-fash­ioned way. He uses a Pen­tax 645N, a medium-for­mat film cam­era, and has his prints made by a lab in Prague. Why doesn’t he do his own de­vel­op­ing and print­ing? He is more in­ter­ested, he said, in mak­ing im­ages than in sit­ting in a lab­o­ra­tory.

Abadzic’s˘ pho­tos take in quite a range of sub­jects, but each one shows ev­i­dence of an eye for in­ter­est­ing com­po­si­tions and of much prac­tice cap­tur­ing them. The peo­ple in his pic­tures look nat­u­ral and of­ten time­less, but their sur­round­ings exhibit a sur­pris­ing in­ten­sity, per­haps be­cause of Abadzic’s˘ sen­si­tiv­ity to the de­signs of things and his abil­ity to bring out pat­terns by pay­ing at­ten­tion to the play of sun­light and shadow.

His port­fo­lio in­cludes such di­verse im­ages as Fe­male Nude by a Win­dow; A Day When Ev­ery­thing Goes Wrong (show­ing a man pick­ing up spilled ap­ples from his over­turned bi­cy­cle bas­ket); En­veloped by Snow, Prague (in which a man, seen from above, shov­els snow around a foun­tain); and Kiss, Prague (a cou­ple is kiss­ing in a court­yard café, sur­rounded by va­cant ta­bles and chairs).

There is an in­no­cence in Sis­ters, Baska, 2000, an im­age he made on the Croa­t­ian is­land of Krk. He lived in Baska for three years and of­ten saw th­ese lit­tle girls. For this one, which de­picts them play­ing a game, he cap­tured them un­awares. At other times, he asked them to pose. In Their Own World, an­other ar­rest­ing Baska im­age, shows a group of youngsters sit­ting and talk­ing in a field that also has, in the near dis­tance, a large boat, ap­par­ently nowhere near wa­ter.

His photo Day of Im­por­tant News, Prague, 2001 adds a height­ened geo­met­ric el­e­ment to an­other ca­sual scene: a man, shot from above, stands next to an an­tique street­light read­ing a news­pa­per. Around him are mo­saic-tiled side­walks, a street paved with wave-pat­tern cob­ble­stones, and a steel-railed stair­way.

The re­peated pat­terns of cob­bled streets shows up again in Un­ti­tled, Prague, 1998, but this time the fo­cus is on a pud­dle run­ning di­ag­o­nally through the com­po­si­tion. In the wa­ter— and this is the most crisply fo­cused part of the im­age— is a row of his­toric build­ing fa­cades, re­flected and up­side-down.

“If I am free do­ing noth­ing than mak­ing im­ages, if my thoughts as well as my time are de­voted to photography, such kind of im­ages are not co­in­ci­dence,” Abadzic˘ said. “My vis­ual cu­rios­ity has to be sat­is­fied, and the sur­round­ing will be seen merely though the eyes of the pho­tog­ra­pher. In this way you are go­ing to dis­cover de­tails as well as scenes other peo­ple pass­ing by fail to rec­og­nize.”

Stanko Abad˘zic: Un­ti­tled, Prague, 1998,

gelatin sil­ver print, 16 x 20 inches

Julio Bit­ten­court:

In a Win­dow of Prestes Maia 911 Build­ing, C-print, 16 x 24 inches

Michael Crouser: Steve Ham­mer & Moon, Burns, CO, 2009, gelatin sil­ver print, 20 x 16 inches

Stanko Abad˘zic: In Their Own World, Baska, gelatin sil­ver print, 20 x 16 inches

Above left,

Day of Im­por­tant News, Prague, 2001,

gelatin sil­ver print, 20 x 16 inches

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