Mortar Shells and Cigarettes
Personal work in Bosnia, 15 years after wars end
Winding through the streets of Sarajevo, I am a voyeur. Sarajevo is a city of layers, and with the discovery of each comes a deeper understanding. As I dug deeper into basements where it is heard that your hair turns gray overnight, I began to know the city just a bit more. I progressively mapped which bars stayed open just a little later than the last. Gradually going from one place to the next until the first shop opened again at 5am, I avoiding having to hail a taxi during the unoperating hours of the tram and not go home just yet. If I were to live in Sarajevo again, I would live life between 8pm and 10am. That is when the city is the most alive. Maybe it is because they have gotten used to the darkness of living underground and forgot how to live in the light. By being awake through night, maybe then I would know what it is like to live in darkness.
With each day spent, new layers uncover and they only get more complex to understand. There aren’t just cut layers of 1, 2, and 3. Within each number lies A to Z as well. The sorting of war is even more complex: hearing stories and then their counterparts. The contrasting sides between Bosnians and Serbs, Serbs and Croats, Croats and Bosnians, and any other combination of the two or three and then again amongst themselves. There are no heroes, only mass graves and eventual borders drawn as clearly as enemy lines. Snipers retreat from their posts as refugees return and the craters in the ground are filled with red cement and called “Sarajevo Roses” (as if they should be sweet memories). These crass reminders become overlooked like the holes from shrapnel in the buildings. And yet, still, no one is right and no one is wrong.
I went to Bosnia to photograph what it was like 15 years after the war had ended. I had imagined it to be heavy, but not as complex as it was. At the time I believed in right and wrong, in a simple truth. However, there is no black and there is no white. There are just a million variations of gray with hardly any way to differentiate between one shade and the next until you have somehow crossed enemy lines and now side with both the defender and the aggressor. The only conclusion that I could come to was that this war was not mine. I did not fill my body with the stimulants of two packs of cigarettes and eight cups of coffee a day, trying to distract myself for the last fifteen years of recovery. Now eighteen years, with many more tough years to come. The stories of running through sniper alley are not mine to tell, and neither are the stories of relearning how to live with one another whether it has been successful or not. Life moves on as new tights are being put on display in store windows. Life moves on and memories stand still as they turn to dust like the thousands of books in the burnt National Library. Eventually the holes are just overlooked as everybody tries to pretend like nothing happened although it was the time when everything happened. I went with the intention of finding a story, only to realize that the only story is my own. It is a story of the things I witnessed, in a city that I desperately tried to belong to as I looked for anything that could be seen as black and white, like how I once believed things were.
Exhibitions and Publications.
’13 Dodho Magazine, Spain
’13 Fototazo, On-line Magazine
’13 D-Photo Magazine, New Zealand
’11 “Family Exhibition”, National juried show, Southwest School of Art & Craft;
Navarro Gallery, San Antonio, TX (Purchase Award)
’11 Inscape, Bi-Annual Journal; Provo, UT, USA
’10 B.F. Larsen Main Gallery, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
’10 Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT (Invitational)
A big thanks to the grant from Brigham Young University Office of Research & Creative Activities (ORCA). Additionally thank you to those in Sarajevo who took me in and made it a second home that I will always hold close to me.