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Marija Strajnic

The Serbian photographer shares the insights on creating visual narratives through sets of emotion-evoking photographs

Belgrade born and based photographer/architect Marija Strajnic started to obsessively document everything that was happening around her with the help of a film camera at a young age. To this day, she keeps her camera close, creating soft images with a very personal atmosphere. Using black & white or colour film, Marija captures emotional moments she witnesses in her life and the lives of her friends.

Here we talk to Strajnic, who just started her PhD studies in Architecture, about the importance of editing and telling stories through her sets of photographs, which she likes to put into visual narratives, reinforcing emotional impacts. Strajnic also shares her thoughts on the blooming creative industry of Serbia and how her background in architecture has influenced her photography.

Dazed Digital: When did you start taking photos and do you have an early memory on what inspired you to take photos?
Marija Strajnic: I was taking photos from forever ago and it started culminating once I found an old Caika camera in my parent's closet. I put a film inside to see if it still worked. The photos were all ruined with light leaks but the thrill I was feeling while I was waiting for the photos to be developed made me look for a camera that actually functioned. Next thing you know, I bought a Pentax MX and, I was kind of hooked. From that moment on I started obsessively storing on film everyhting that was happening to me. I realised I enjoyed looking through all the photos I'd taken, and arranging them as visual narratives, to reveal something that those photographs and the situations in them didn't alone. It soon became my main focus- relating photographs. I tend to create flowing sequences of images, that would provoke certain feelings or disclose some sort of truth about the world, or tell an intimate story left for observer's own interpretation.

DD: Do you think your background in architecture and design influences your photography?
Marija Strajnic: Yes, a lot. I was actually constantly trying to run away from architectural precision, concreteness and firmness into something a little more hyperbolic and metaphoric. That escape has been an accent for me in first several years as a photographer. Then after some time I realised how much my initial profession guided my photographic aesthetics: if it wasn't for architecture I guess I wouldn't be able to demystify all those poetic atmospheres that are relocating me from the reality that's surrounding me. Also I wouldn't be paying that much attention to details, which are I think the essence of any feeling I am trying to bring out on the surface as a photographer.

DD: I've noticed the rise of many young talented photographers from Serbia in the past couple of years: Ana Kraš, Katarina Šoškić, Tatjana Radević, Nataša Adžić, Mate Ugrin, amongst others. We can see some of them in your photos too. What is it like to work in the creative industry in Serbia and why do you think there are so many young talents from Serbia nowadays?
Marija Strajnic: Some of them are my very close friends and the others I meet here and there. Living in the same city and doing the same thing, consciously or not, made us into each other's inspiration and we all took it somewhere from that point. The relationships I have with people is what I photograph the most, so I guess that is why this aesthetic and emotional link between us is that obvious.

I am (un)fortunate to live and work in Serbia because there's always been a big amount of chaos aorund here, in every sense. I guess it makes creative industry blossom and pushes people to try hard in whatever it is that they're doing. On the other hand, there is a lack of fine opportunities for all the people inspired by all that never ending drama, so we are "forced" to work internationally. Apart from that, I find it a little vague to geographically classify art scenes in the 21st century, when we are all a part of this gigantic pulsing internet vein that makes us all live in the same venur somehow.

DD: Your photos feel very personal, instinct based and intimate. Do you find it easy to capture the intimacy amongst your friends?
Marija Strajnic: I guess my friends and all the people I love are used to being around my cameras all the time and they generously let me capture whatever I want, sometimes without even noticing my camera, and sometimes listening to my strict directions pointed towards their behaviour.

DD: Do you ever style your subjects to get an image you go after?
Marija Strajnic: Yes, lots of times I imagine a scene in my head triggered by someone's looks, feeling or an atmosphere, and I ask them to play that role for my lenses.

DD: How important is editing for you and how do you come up with names for your sets?
Marija Strajnic: It's much more important for me to pick the right photographs for a set, and to make them communicate as a whole, than to accent them individually. I spend much more time arranging photos to tell a 'story', than I do editing individual parts. Names for my sets  are borrowed from books, songs, movies, conversations, or thoughts relating to a particular set. There is no rule really, except that it needs to encircle the point in some way.

DD: Where were the photos in your Heartbeat Horizon set taken, and what was the place like in terms of taking photographs?
Marija Strajnic: I travel whenever I get the opportunity and find time. Heartbeat Horizon is a set of photographs I made on Iceland, in April this year. Iceland is the biggest emptiness I've ever been a part of, most of the time I felt like I was the only living person in that country, or maybe even in the whole world, or the universe. Everything there is made of water, even mountains. There are more horses than people, more rainbows than sunbeams. Absolute noise made of complete silence. Maybe all this is why I fell in love with it on so many levels. I came back from that road trip with a million landscape photographs, and then I made a long exhausting heartbeat which was in relation with how I felt at the moment, and finally I killed it all with a flat line and white colour in the end.

DD: Are there photographers who inspire you? What else inspires you?
Marija Strajnic: It's hard not to get affected by something in this vortex of images that is revolving around us and around the world. The first photographer that always comes to my mind when I get asked this question is my dear friend F.M.J Botham, whose work I can always deeply relate to. Also geniuses such as Janya Ishigami, Bruno Dumont, Conor Oberst and Ingmar Bergman, for example, always hit that spot in me. Besides that, I'm inspired by the complexity of feelings in everyday life, and I'm trying to bring out the epic of that commonness as something recognisable and intimate to anyone who observes it.

DD: What have you been working on recently?
Marija Strajnic: I finally have some time to do something other than co-authoring the Serbian national exhibition at Venice Biennale this summer in Itlay, so I am happy to share an album cover design that I've done for Stray Dogg, my favourite band at the moment. Plus I'm in the middle of finishing my first photo book called Fifth Element.