Stojan Kerbler, Alenka Vidrgar, Dragomir Bole, Dragan Arrigler, Lado Jakša, Božidar Dolenc: Today About Yesterday: Slovenian Photographers Before Disillusion/Dissolution
Nearly a quarter century has past since I first turned my attention to Slovenian photography. I was an American directing a gallery for photography in Cardiff, Wales. I had begun a program called "Continental Enquiries" investigating contemporary photographic practice in Europe and wanted to extend its range into countries at that time were largely obscured from Western view. I had already settled on Czechoslovakia (a country which no longer exists) and was looking about for a second.
One of the gallery`s regular if infrequent visitors was a young Slovenian student attending the art college in Swansea, who would visit to see the exhibitions I had curated, look at the new books which had arrived, and talk to me. At some point he began bringing by examples of publications containing the work of what were then contemporary Yugoslavian photographers. The reproduction was almost always poor but the images and ideas intrigued me. Of course this student was Bojan Radovič, who would later direct his own gallery for photography in his native Novo mesto.
The initial exhibition was entitled "Aspects of Contemporary Yugoslavian Photography" and was presented in 1983 in Liverpool, England and Graz, Austria. Unfortunately it was never presented at the Cardiff gallery as I lost the post of director there (in part because of my intention to present a Yugoslav exhibition). Over the years I made several more trips to Slovenia, more than to any of the former republics, suspended in 1989 until relatively recently (for Manifesta in Ljubljana, several years ago).
The work presented here in September, 2005 is drawn largely from the initial exhibition, either as the original exhibited prints, other vintage prints, or new prints produced from the negatives (the principle exception being Dragomir Bole`s work which I`d seen only as transparencies and later included in a lecture on Yugoslavian photographer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas). The six photographers adequately represent the vitality of the medium in Slovenia at that time, the breath and depth of photographic investigation, and the curious conditions of its making.
Stojan Kerbler was producing an extensive and intimate documentary record of the seemingly almost timeless life in his father`s village of Haloze; while, in his apartment in Ptuj, he was archiving a record of the publications and exhibitions of virtually every photographer in the country, in both ways holding history together with his own hands.
Meanwhile, Dragan Arrigler, sitting alone in his sparse office in some agricultural sector of the state bureaucracy, one day decided to photograph that solitary realm, also providing an evocative personal documentation of its time and place.
I met Božidar Dolenc at a local Ljubljana camera club, where his resonant, metaphoric images caused older members to wonder. He soon became the chronicler of underground student activities and the unfolding photo and art scene. His entire body of work is so rich and varied I find it a pity that there has not been a major monograph produced of it (perhaps I will have to do this).
Lado Jakša is a jazz musician who became captivated by the visual poetry of photographically created images, finding personal meaning in the freeform relationships of the world around himself. Undoubtedly, each medium nourishes the other for him.
I first encountered the work of Alenka Vidrgar in a box of another photographers` prints, who offered to take me to her. In her tiny room in her mother`s flat I discovered photographic work by the young sculpture student in the Academy of Fine Art which revealed a personal relationship to the medium and its language and potentials unlike any I knew before: pictures of feelings, of ideas, of feelings about ideas. I immediately arranged a small solo exhibition in London for the work, and wish I could have done more. She continues to sculpt but not to photograph much.
A few years later I saw slides of photographic work produced by Alenka`s husband Dragomir Bole. It was essentially photographic performance art, a kind of physical photo-montage, at once simple and powerful in its earnestness and sincerity, and the first overtly political work I encountered (other than photographic records of political events like demonstrations and strikes and Jane Štravs` more subtle army portraits).
There are of course many who were included in the past who are excluded here, in this cozy gallery, among them Bojan himself, Tone Stojko, who helped me enormously in assembling the original exhibition, Zoran Vogrinčič, who took me to meet Alenka, the aforementioned Ivan Dvoršak and Jane Štravs, and also Marko Gosar, Milan Pajk, Janez Pukšič, Sonja Lebedinec, Tomaž Lauko, Metka Vergnion, Miran Podlesnik, Sonja Zalar...I encourage viewers of this exhibition to seek out the work of the others to savour the vitality and variety of that time before disillusion and dissolution. Though no longer in a position of authority on the subject, I am not sure the present provides as much passion or purpose.
I am grateful to all the photographers and particularly to Bojan Radovič for sparking my initial interest, for assisting me in later years, and for recently returning to an active dedication to the medium and regional photographers by establishing the Slovenian House of Photography, helping with the preparation, installation, and publication of this exhibition.
It also was very nice of Barbara Čeferin , director of Galerija Fotografija, to have her baby exactly at the time when we needed a gallery to show this work and for her willingness to have it be hers. The work of several of the photographers exhibited here can be purchased from her gallery, so please do so.
William Messer, curator