The exhibition entitled Domestic Stories showcases the works of two distinctive and acclaimed contemporary photographers from Croatia, Jelena Blagović and Ana Opalić. Both photographers’ artistic practice is characterised by a profound exploration of intimate stories that recount the personal sensations of ordinary people within the wider socio-political context.
This accented intimacy however is manifest in their works on different levels. While Blagović uses found archival material to dig deep into the past of her own family with a huge emotional charge, Opalić is for the most part faced with the stories of complete strangers who let the photographer close–in order to profess their traumatic life experiences. Both artists therefore emphasise the socio-political context of the past and present it from the perspective of the ordinary man, who is often portrayed as insignificant and powerless in relation to his or her surroundings. Due to temporal distance, their subjects, and their content–be it love letters from the distant past or testimonies of forcefully displaced people twenty years ago–could easily have lost their emotional and intimate connotations. The artists however have preserved and perpetuated these connotations through thoughtful visual means such as the complete reduction of explicit image and content.
Ana Opalić’s series Home deals with with memory and the phenomenon of perishing in photography and moving image media. Over the past two decades, Opalić has created a number of works wherein their essence lies precisely in the element of time and in the autobiographical treatment of one’s own aspirations, desires, worldviews, and actions in relation to one’s surroundings. This can be seen in the intimate series Self-portraits (1994-2007), Zoo (2005-2015), and Stopping (2005-2015) which foreground profound existential questions about the meaning and absurdity of life, about truth and fiction, and the fine line that separates them. Opalić also explores pressing social issues such as the short-lived, selective nature of collective memory. The aftermath of war is examined in the series Afterwards (2006-2013) and Home (2010-2013), the latter is based on her visits to the homes of victims of the war in Croatia in the early 1990s. Instead of harrowing accounts of violence, mortal fear, humiliation, and deportation, Opalić focuses on the visual narrative of the images of simple impoverished interiors of the victims’ homes. As photographer Don McCullin once said, the real victims of war are the poor, those without the means to get away. It is those without information, who invariably stay behind. Psychologically, home represents a safe haven and that is why the artist has captured seemingly irrelevant details which come to relate anonymous fates of people.
The Unprotected Archives trilogy (2007-2013) is a series of photographs resulting from photographer Jelena Blagović’s long-term research into her family history, which was also a way for her to explore her own identity. The creative process ran accordingly, started with the artist collecting and selecting the material, then arranging it into well-thought-out structures, and finally documenting it by means of photography. Yet she is not interested in a narrative and analytical presentation of the archive contents, which remain concealed or just barely implied, in this process. What the carefully planned compositions convey is the emotional landscape of family intimacy, symbolised by items such as letters, postcard, books, and souvenirs. The Before Me series (2010) is a photo-document of arranged piles of old (presumably love) letters received by the artist’s mother, which save for some rare details, remain out of reach. In a similar constructed fashion, images from the Family Silver series (2007) show drawers filled with personal items belonging to the artist’s ancestors, thus exploring family history through its tangible legacy.
Miha Colner, 1 February 2016