Dragan Novakovic

Manchester, 1970, Dragan Novakovic

I’ve been lucky to have met a bunch of interesting, talented people via the blog. I’m repeatedly reminded that there are photographers out there doing exceptional work in anonymity, doing it not for the recognition or acclaim but rather simply for the love of what they’re doing.

The beauty of the internet is that it’s radically democratized photography as a practice. Anyone can exhibit their work to a worldwide audience; just post it to your flickr account or any number of other internet venues where your work can potentially be seen. No more gate-keepers i.e. self-appointed experts and curators and gallery owners in positions of power who determine what get’s seen and what doesn’t, often without reference to the strength of the work itself, too often determined by who knows who and who’s seeking to curry favor with whom.

As an American living in Paris, I was often amused by the cliched work of famous photographers who’d spend a week there and then push out a book. William Eggleston’s Paris monograph comes to mind, the work weak and uninspired, nothing but the standard romanticized take on the city, done in a weekend. It got published because it was William Eggleston. Not fair, but who said life would be.

The flip-side of the problem is now there are no gate-keepers. We’re awash in images with little or no means to differentiate the original from the cliched and derivative, the excellent from the mundane, but our own judgment in determining what’s good and what’s not. That’s why it’s more critical now than ever to have some sense of the broader history of photography as an art form and as a documentary vehicle, to have educated your eye to what constitutes an arresting visual image, to what works as a series of images that tell a story and give some sense of the reality that inspired them.

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So, at least insofar as Leicaphilia is concerned, I’ve become the gate-keeper for what gets exhibited here. Frankly, having had looked at, read about, and immersed myself in photography for as long as I have, I’m as competent as anyone to identify excellent work, and the work shown here, England in the 70’s, sent to me by Dragan Novakovic, a Serbian photographer from Belgrade, is exceptional. Superb work borne of a great eye, a stimulated intellect, a mechanical film camera and some Tri-X, the sort of stuff you’re capable of when your obsessions are the subtleties of light, tone, composition, subject and emotion. I have no idea what equipment he used, beyond knowing its 35mm Tri-X; I didn’t ask and it doesn’t matter, but it certainly does have the unmistakable look of what we call traditional “Leica photography.”

 

I hesitate to add any explanation to the work, to put a label on it or characterize it in a given way. Like all good art, it stands on its own. It’s simple and beautiful and thought-provoking. Each photo gives a profound sense of place and time, its own self-contained universe, yet the film aesthetic, the subject matter, the compositional and editorial choices all work together to create something larger than the sum of its parts. Go to Mr. Novakovic’s website below to see the full series. Photographs like this are why I fell in love with photography. It’s also why I find doing the blog so rewarding; Dragan is just some guy who reads the blog and thought I might be interested in some old photos, those old photos being as good as anything I’ve ever seen. I’m glad I’ve got the ability to disseminate them to a wider audience, something Dragan Novakovic richly deserves. According to him:

I wish I could tell you that these photos are the fruit of a well-thought-out project and expatiate upon it (projects and concepts seem to be all the rage these days), but the truth is, they are all completely random shots. Still, some background information will help to explain why and how I came to find myself there in the first place. While in secondary school, I came upon Friedrich Engels’s book The Condition of the Working Class in England and my imagination was fired by his descriptions of Manchester. Later I read George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and, after I had arrived in London in the autumn of 1968, I bought Bill Brandt’s Shadow of Light and was blown away, particularly by his northern towns photos. From then on visiting and photographing the area became an obsession with me and I finally made several brief trips to it, mostly over weekends. In short, I was overwhelmed and awed by the surreal look of the place; there was so much to see and so little time that I often found myself moving at a trot, not always pausing long enough to explore the subject and frame carefully; and I took mostly single photos of individual subjects because I could ill afford to buy film and carried on average only two to five rolls of Tri-X.


Dragan Novakovic lives in Belgrade, Serbia. You can see more of his work at http://dragannovakovicphotography.com/

5 thoughts on “Dragan Novakovic

  1. StephenJ

    Thanks Tim, I first saw Dragan’s pictures on Macfilos, he seems to have added quite a lot since that earlier post…

    Good catch, he is an excellent documentary photographer.

    Some of the shots in the London section, I recognise, they are still the same shape, but nearly fifty years later, nothing of the clothes, the shopfronts or the ingrained dirt remain, everything is shiny and municipalised now.

    Reply
  2. Jean-Philippe Carrié

    Thank you very much for such a beautiful discovery! Your speech about “doorkeepers” is btw absolutely right. Thank you again for such an interesting post. I hope soon you will allow us to discover new gems like this one.
    Cheers,

    JP

    Reply
  3. Rob Campbell

    Truly beautiful work. There’s a sense of deja vu for me, but I can’t remember from where the memory of having seen these pictures comes. Viewed on this little iPad, the tonality is stunningly lovely. Are you sure you haven’t featured Dragan before?

    Congratulations to you as well as, of course, Dragan!

    Reply
  4. Finny

    Vivian Maier – Dragan Novakovic – Martin Parr … 3 „generations“, 3 narrators of the everyday. “Then, yesterday, today”. As I see it, the transition from black and white to color is the only logical and consistent ..
    Great documentation!

    Reply
  5. Rob Campbell

    Finny, that’s treason!

    Colour and b/white have no real, logical sequence in the sense of an advancement in the technique of telling a story.

    They are two separate belief systems, and have a different ethic where the one sees the other (colour) as only having relevance when its a matter of colour blocks making the dynamic, whereas with b/white it’s about a different emotional charge that depends more on narrative being the focus, the intrinsic quality that makes you hunt for interpretations of its raison d’être.

    A bad b/white image tells you, and makes you think – nothing;

    a bad colour picture is worse, because it is just a bad, coloured b/white image with nothing to say for itself despite the camouflage and secondary distraction of colour.

    If one thinks too much about photography one finds all sorts of reasons for leaving the camera behind. My usual “reason” is that I often find it too cold in winter…

    Reply

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