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Astra Film Festival

Astra Film Festival 2002

Photography Exhibition. Balkan Portraits

Between Fascination and Anthropological Realism

During the selection of the films, we became almost depressed and sick watching so many war tragedies and poverty.  The original idea for the photo exhibition was to counter balance these never ending tragic images with a more pleasant side of the “Balkan” reality. I therefore thought of organising a photo exhibition only depicting the nice facet of the Balkans. When I go on my anthropological research trips, I often meet people who remind me of those I used to meet during my childhood with my father, and whom I was always very excited and pleased to meet. Pictures of these nice faces often come back to me in memory and it is these faces which for me also represent the Balkans.

Middle ages have in some sense never ended and still persist in forms in the Balkans. For instance, some of the rural agrarian production system survived the most systematic destruction of communism. Therefore, a specific “close to nature” way of life can still be found in “real” villages throughout the region. The rural area was actually the refuge for these people at many times throughout history; I for instance met people in these villages who told me stories about how they could overcome the most notorious hardships and constrains coming from the modern state system. I am fascinated with their stories and their faces; after a while their faces and the stories merged in my memories, and I remained with the fascination and the portraits I made of them.
I know that I am not alone with this fascination. Even philosophical works such as those of Lucian Blaga have been written relying on this source. But also Constantin Noica and Emil Cioran have been inspired by this world. I am also aware that a romanticized view of peasant culture has to a certain extent been influenced from this fascination, and that nationalist ideologies have emerged in each Balkan country following this. Although it is hard not to be associated with “their” fascination, still, I believe it is not impossible. Although I believe that this exhibition has not emerged from a pure academic or anthropological urge, I nonetheless think that it has its place within the anthropological representation of the Balkans.

Finally, I have to say that this exhibition only represents the first attempt to regroup portraits from the Balkans. My plan was to have these kinds of portraits from each country of the region and I hope that this can be realised. My assistant Louis Tisné, who comes from England/France, was working 2 months to get the pictures we wanted. I am really grateful for his work in every sense!! I think it is emblematic that it was very hard to get these pictures: pictures which are not showing war destruction, poverty and devastation in these countries. We also intend to expand “Balkan Portraits” into a traveling exhibition, any idea and collaboration in this sense is welcomed!

                                                                                                                                          Dumitru Budrala

“Balkan Portraits” were gathered from the following countries:

Greece: The attraction towards the faces shaped by the Greek village life can be found in the works of both Katerina Kaloudi and Stavros Dagtzidis, although their styles are very different. Their photos grasp well the atmosphere in and around the small village “Kafenia's” (Greek coffee shop).  

Serbia: Dragoslav Ilic exposes a part of his “Serbian Village” collection at the Astra Film Fest. His 25 black and white photographies depict the everyday images of the contemporary Serbian village life of Krajina, a northern region of Serbia. We cannot help wondering about the spiritual strength of the characters being shown in the pictures.

Bulgaria: The Bulgarian photographer Ivo Hadjimishev will join them in a display that was part of a much larger collection exhibited under the name “Bulgaria: A Land of Peace and Tolerance” in Sofia in 2000. His pictures represent seven different ethnic groups residing together in Bulgaria: Armenians, Bulgarians, Jews, Karakachans, Muslims, Rome and Turks. They looked directly into Mr. Hadjimishev's lens, and ultimately into the eyes of the viewers.

Croatia: More eyes will stare at you at the “Balkan Portraits” exhibition, as a selection of pictures from the Institute of Ethnographic and Folklore Research of Zagreb will also be exposed. They are the work of ten photographers (Branco Kostelac, Davor Siftar, Branko Miletic, Suzana Marjanic, Josko Caleta, Sanja Puljar D’Alessio, Stjepan Sremac, Luka Seso, Marijana Hamersak and Darko Smontara) who, during the years, have been regrouping a photographic archive depicting Croatian culture and folk culture. As in Romania, folk culture is very important in Croatia and one will be able to compare and contrast it with the portraits from Romania.

Romania: Dumitru Budrala has been taking pictures in Romanian villages for many years now and this is just a small part of what he would like people to see of Romania. Each picture exposed has a history attached to it and each person depicted has a story to tell. Although Mr. Budrala would love for all these stories to be written down for many people to read, he will let these faces talk for themselves and let the viewers rely on their imagination.

See the photos