Seize the lens
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
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
Day of Important News, Prague, 2001,
gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 inches