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Feature 08 Aug 17

Belgrade Raw Strips City to Bare Bones

A Serbian photographers’ collective is challenging traditional depictions of the Serbian capital.

Mathilde De Kerchove
BIRN
Belgrade Insight
Luka Knezevic Strika. Photo courtesy of Luka Knezevic Strika.

Belgrade Raw is a collective of eleven photographers with a shared mission: to explore Belgrade and present it to the public in a uniquely gritty way.

One member, Luka Knezevic Strika, defines its main goal as being to present a genuine and direct documentary depiction of Belgrade.

In 2009, Knezevic Strika and five other members of the current team noticed that there was something missing on the city’s photo documentary scene.

While plenty of images showcasing the beauty of tourist hotspots circulated widely, there was a sad lack of images showing a different side of life.

“We identified this hole that needed to be filled, and that’s what we did. Many people wanted to see it filled, even if they didn’t especially think of it as a hole,” said Strika.

Partial inspiration came in 2008 when Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson did a series of documentary pictures of Belgrade for National Geographic.

Strika said it was “a preposterous way to show Serbia, way more [messed] up than it really was”.

From that moment, they decided they were going to fill the gap in Belgrade’s documentary scene and snap honest yet raw images of city life.

The project quickly gained media recognition and notoriety on the contemporary art scene.

Thanks to the great expansion of the internet between 2009 and 2011, the group managed to launch the website Belgrade Raw, which aroused more international interest.

The group’s main product consists of a collection of images representing daily life in Belgrade in the simplest way possible.

Through expanding their online presence, they also sourced new members for the collective from several photography groups, which led them to grow into a team of 11 photographers – professionals and amateurs.

“Our way to work consists of taking photographs during our daily lives in Belgrade to show the city as we think it is, nothing more. It’s not about finding some photogenic places and going there,” said Strika.

Photo courtesy of Belgrade Raw.

Their simple vision of photography led them into a small niche within the photographic scene in Serbia.

According to Strika, the Serbian photography sector is really focused on technological acumen, while the Belgrade Raw collective is more concerned about what it is showed, rather than the technique.

The group does not focus on photo editing or specialised equipment and prefers to show the most natural vision of their city, using the most accessible tools. 

“Most of us are using different film cameras, including these automatic camera, doing everything, except framing, which is the important thing in the end. And this somehow gave us more success than we were thinking we would get,” said Strika.

Most of the members were not originally photographers. The group includes designers, visual artists and developers.

“We are all involved in Belgrade Raw, but we have also individual projects. We communicate about them and offer support in terms of critics or ideas for each other,” said Strika.

For Strika, the collectivisation of art is the best way to respond to a rapidly evolving art scene. That’s why their collection of images of Belgrade, which contains almost 1,300 photographs, is considered as the essence of their work, beside all the workshops, exhibitions and installations in the city and abroad.

Indeed, the collective is well aware of the constant fluctuations in the photography sector.

“Photography has changed, it has become something normal for everyone,” said Strika.

“Now it’s being used in a very natural way by people who don’t even consider them as photographers, although they are.”

This phenomenon has changed the collective vision of photography, and therefore their way of working. Over the past few years, they have been approaching new topics and exploring these changes, using these evolutions as a new tool.

Two years ago, for example, they organized an exhibition at the U10 Art Gallery in Belgrade, and used ordinary people as performers. One of the installations was the live streaming of pictures from Instagram taken by random people in Belgrade with a special hashtag or location. First, people were quite surprised by the new concept, and used this more as a joke, trolling the live stream with some absurd selfies.

After a few days, the project grew more successful, and the live streaming started to become increasingly interesting.

While the issue of budget was one of the reasons the collective didn’t make a classic exhibition with printed pictures, its members also wanted to show people they are aware of the current situation of photography in our society where instantaneity is at the centre of everything.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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