Escape from reality (Sarajevo 1992-95)


The idea of going to the exhibition of photos taken during the war in Bosnia definitely creates certain prejudices and pre-establishes a vision of photos that would be presented. I do not remember when was the last time I was so wrong, yet so painfully right at the same time with regard to the contents of an exhibition I was to attend.

Zoran Kanlic had been very aware himself of the fact that a vast majority of photos that were going to be taken in Sarajevo during the war would blatantly depict destructions, killings and sufferings and thus decided that he was going to take a whole different approach. To put it in his own words, he went out, visited cafes and clubs that (somehow) worked during the war and took photos of people relaxing and "enjoying" themselves. Couples dancing, people enjoying a cigarette and a drink are all portrayed with a nerve-hacking accuracy. Not a technical accuracy, though - bearing in mind that all these photographs were made in an absolute wartime environment, one must not pay attention to the fact that the images are somewhat blurry, lighting awkward, contrast poor, etc. - it has never been a point of these photos, anyway. The accuracy of these photos lies in their presentation of loneliness, despair and blankness of a small man lost in a war, so strong that it made me wonder whether Zoran Kanlic, pursuing an entirely different goal, has actually given the truest possible presentation of the war and suffering in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The most striking feature of all twenty odd photos presented in the gallery are the eyes. Standing in the centre of a big room, surrounded by dark, moody images, one cannot help but feel being stared at from all sides. Eyes of all photographed people are but a void, black hollow spaces filled with sadness to the very point of overflow. All hopelessness of the war, worry for their dearest ones and pessimism with regard to the future are so clearly presented, alongside the dreaminess that is best described by the very title of the exhibition - a desire to escape from the cruel reality that surrounded them all at the time being.
Black and white technique, although maybe used more out of a pure necessity then as a preferred choice of the photographer, suits the mood perfectly, while the careful hand-printing brought the most out of the negatives that were themselves processed in the uncanny of circumstances. Afore mentioned lack of contrast and poor lighting actually help conveying the atmosphere of a war-ridden town and everyday lives of its unfortunate citizens.

Instead of a conclusion, I bought one portrait myself.

Danijel Mihajlovic