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end of love | Interview with Michał Narożny

to balkanize | verb; to divide a region or body into smaller mutually hostile states or groups.

'The Balkans photographed if they were somewhere in California' - this was my first thought when I saw the images from the 'end of love' project by Polish photographer Michał Narożny. The series on which the following conversation with Anastasiia Malkova was based, gives an account of a journey Narożny undertook in 2016 throughout the countries of Southeastern Europe. In it, the author unintentionally subverts the dominant visual narrative about the region as an unusually gray concrete remnant of the past. The borders between the separate countries in this work remain almost invisible. As it turns out, if you focus on the countryside rather than on the infrastructure of the larger cities, the geography of these places starts to look much more peaceful, fluid and consistent. A region that is usually portrayed through the eclectic brutalism of its urban areas appears tender and melancholic in this little but very fine body of work executed with impressive delicacy and skill. The quietness and lack of sensationalism in Narożny's images let us discover a parallel world filled with glistening light and secret yearning which becomes a good place to start reconsidering the aesthetics of the Southeast as they have been represented so often in media today.

Albania | From 'end of love'

In your introduction to ‘end of love’ you say the images were taken in the countries which used to be subordinate to the USSR, but neither from the photographs nor from your text can we infer the city or country you find yourself in. What was your thought process behind the creation of this project?

When planning my trip, I had set a specific route that was supposed to lead through a specific set of countries in that region. I had an exact plan about where to stay, in which city, how much time I wanted to spend in each country, etc. I had certain expectations about how my journey would look like and lots of preconceived ideas. However, during my first night on the road just after crossing the Polish border with Slovakia, a situation occurred which could have changed everything. That night, a bear approached my tent. Thanks to a swift telephone call to the Slovakian mountain rescue, I managed to survive this situation and I am still alive today. Apart from the advice given over the phone, the mountain rescuers arrived at the scene and camped next to me. That evening I heard many interesting stories about places, people, events, beliefs and even many personal stories from the guys. At that moment, I decided that I would be choosing my further destinations guided by my conversations with the people I met along the way, by what they recommended, but most importantly, I would go for the places connected to their stories. This is why it is difficult to identify a specific city or country in my pictures because in some way this aspect became less important to me. The photographed places are almost always linked to a story told earlier by people met during the trip.

Croatia | From 'end of love'

Did you discover any visual patterns in the countries you visited?

Despite a certain image that I had already acquired from literature, film or even music, I tried not to impose any visual patterns. I tried to approach my process with a clear head and act spontaneously. When photographing, the only factors that I was conscious about in order to visually connect the subsequent photos were the time of day and light. When I was working on developing photos and scanning them it became clear that all of the photographs, despite being taken in many totally different European countries, create a certain visual wholeness and correspond to each other.

Montenegro | From 'end of love'

How does this in-betweenness of the former Eastern Bloc countries resonate with your personal life experience? Did it change when you moved to Berlin?

I was born in Poland in 1984, which was a transitional period between communism and democracy. People born in that year also fall into the so-called millennial generation. As millennials who grew up with that newly obtained freedom of the 1990s, we no longer had to fight, but still intuitively understood all the stages of transition from communism to democracy. So, everything I encountered in my journey was very relatable to my time and life in Poland, and thus seemed close. As far as Berlin is concerned, this city in some fragments contains a part of the culture of every country I visited.

Bosnia and Herzegovina & Albania | From 'end of love'

In their neutrality and serenity, the images of ‘end of love’ hold a particular melancholy: an old hotel building, dried palm leaves, a dead animal body… how would you describe your mood during your journey?

I would say, my mood was quite neutral. However, emotions and a kind of attitude were building up in me with subsequent conversations with people I met in the course of time. I would agree that many times the stories they told were quite sentimental, even melancholic, and in a sense, it could have affected me. On the other hand, whenever I travel alone I am often accompanied by a certain type of melancholy or I find myself in a rather reflective mood.

 

Albania | From 'end of love'

Could you tell us some more about the portrait of a man on a horse, with the seashore on the background? How did this encounter take place? What was the most appealing thing about this person?

It was November, a bit chilly. I walked along the coast, with no one in sight. Suddenly, a man on a horse appeared from the opposite direction. I already knew that I wanted to take a picture, so I prepared to talk to him. He agreed very enthusiastically and talked with me for a long time. He was very serious, and at the same time, I got the impression that through his stories, and especially, the tales about his daughter, he wanted to introduce her to me and perhaps match us. Finally, he even invited me to dinner with her at his home that evening and we exchanged telephone numbers. The story ended there. I never met her.

Bulgaria | From 'end of love'

The series, however, does not include any portraits of young people. Was it done on purpose? Did you have any interaction with young people while working on the project? What was special about their attitude towards their regional identity?

I was not making any assumption about who I would be portraying, whether young people or older ones. Older people were more open and easier to make connect with, hospitable and willing to share stories; less wary. Maybe that is why I decided to photograph them. That, and the fact that older people in their stories perfectly understood the theme of transition, changes in political systems and dynamics, which is also built in my theme. Of course, I met a lot of young people along the way too. To my surprise, many expressed extreme right-wing views referring to the history of the countries of the former Eastern bloc. For example, I had this situation in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, where I was drinking rakija and talking to the bartender and everything was fine until he asked me where I was travelling from. I replied that I arrived straight from Serbia, that I was there yesterday, and that it is a beautiful country full of great people. When he heard that he simply stopped talking to me.

 

Kosovo | From 'end of love'

The scenes you depict in ‘end of love’ mostly take place in the countryside, rather than in a vibrant urban environment, where one would probably search for the patterns along the East/West divide and way of life. Can we observe these patterns in rural areas of the region as well?

I believe that state capitals are always totally different from what you can see and experience deep in the country, in its interior. The point is that in these areas, let's call it outside agglomerations or large cities - areas within the country, life is closest to the truth about society, about the country, about morals. The pursuit of Western European models can be seen in certain details, which are often totally absurd, as in one of my photos from Albania. The photo shows a white limousine parked next to a fence in a village where the grocery shop had nothing but local products such as cheese, yogurt and bread.

 

Albania | From 'end of love'

Albania | From 'From 'end of love'

Albania | From 'From 'end of love'

Montenegro | From 'end of love'

What soundtrack would you choose for this series?

Okay, there must be two: Eli (Bosnian Rainbows) from my favorite series 'True Detective', and the second track would be Father John Misty - Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.

Albania | From 'end of love'

Would you share your first childhood memory with us?

My childhood was not all rainbows. But it seems that good memories always stand out from the rest and the first thing that came to my mind was the memory of my grandfather teaching me how to drive his Fiat 126p. I was 8 years old and I was driving around the woods like crazy. It was fun.

Montenegro | From 'end of love'

Montenegro | 'From 'end of love'

Interview: Anastasiia Malkova

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