At Second Glance

A few years ago, while I was walking my dog in a place not far away from my flat, where there was a construction site being prepared to build a new block of flats, I wandered onto a heap of cast away stuff, the type that can be seen when they are carting off the bulky waste. It is a rather common site in the town, especially in the places such as the new construction sites, where those who dispose and throw away their waste, count on somebody surely taking away their unnecessary belongings, since there must be trucks involved. It would be nothing unusual but, somehow when passing by, a couple of boxes caught my eye, among which there was this box and its contents scattered around. There were some photos inside the box. Going through the photos, I could not remain indifferent at the unexpected discovery among all those things. There were mostly old family photos, evidently, of a family from Zagreb, hand made by almost forgotten procedure today, in a darkroom, a bunch of slides with the images of an educational content and a smaller box that really surprised me with what was inside. It had a couple of original, already grown yellow photos of the old Zagreb, that I later found out were taken around 1928 and a larger collection of studio portraits. The surprise was even bigger that they were taken in a famous atelier of “Foto Tonka”, to be more exact, the atelier that once belonged to Antonija Kulčar Tonka (1887 – 1971), one of the most significant woman portrayers and social chronologists of her time. Along with the photos from her atelier, according to the stamp at the back of the photos, a couple of portraits were taken in the studio of famous Tošo Dabac (1907 – 1970), one of the founders and the main representatives of a historically known and famous Zagreb School of Art Photography.

Later, while I was looking at the content of the box I took from the waste more carefully in my home, I could not help myself but to ask who all these people are, what destiny do they share? Although their faces, were quite usual on one hand, they were somehow saying something on the other, no matter that they were all probably studio portraits ordered by someone. Maybe a bit romantic enthusiasm because of the finding, or emanation of a past reality may have contributed to feel such a strong, melancholic charge of “what was and the ones who were”, so I could see a man in each of those faces? I don’t know, but when looking at the photos by Davor Žerjav today in the peace and quiet of my home, or more precisely, his authorial project “FACES”, I reflect upon almost hypnotic repetition of the curious punctum. It may be a project almost impossible to understand and to experience if observed by a usual point of view on a reality that does not exist. It is reachable only by having an open point of view that does not only look at the faces. Therefore a less known French philosopher Henri Bergson may have been right when saying that “observation is a true hallucination”, meaning that when observing the image, we do not get the grasp on seeing the instantaneous reality. Each of the true realities is always unrealistic, I would also add surreal, given that the objective image doesn’t exist because of the ontological status of photography, as well as the fact that only a “subjective” record exists; even when literally documentary, photography is always in a certain way „the self-portrait“ of a photographer.

„FACES“ by Davor Žerjav are not just the faces, they are not socially or politically engaged, they are not deeply moving or provoking, but they are also not the faces that maybe someday one would find in a waste disposal and ask oneself who these people were. Faces by Davor Žerjav are his self- portrait where this hopeless idealist and romantic reflects his faith in a man; a neighbour, a fellow-citizen, giving him a chance in front of the lens of his camera to be what he is. Excluding colour as an unnecessary cosmetic addition, he chooses black and white technique as well as the light that carefully and skilfully shapes the volume of his photos. I would say that he gives them an abstract, surreal notion already prepared for that perpetuum mobile in photography, the intimate moment between the subject and its author. That one snap in a fraction of a second, which is ready to repeat itself endlessly in the glance of the photographed person, who can’t see it at that particular moment of taking the photo, is unreachable footprint of the thought as a wakefulness that was mediated and exposed as an image. In that sense, Žerjav fulfilled not only his authorial efforts with the “FACES” project but also, by his approach and realization, he somewhat tried, and I would say succeeded, to bring those people closer to each other. He brings them closer in times when it seems that only tragedies or sad personal destinies manage to do so, in times when people no longer have time for each other, let alone themselves. Not competing with art, because like Man Ray himself said: “You used to tell me that photography is not art! Well, I tell you now: Art is not photography!“, Davor Žerjav will for intuitive observer be the author who managed to avoid the technically mediated moment of testimony, in which the light is only playing a witness role, and will become and stay in his project as someone who simply loved the people… the good photo spirit of Čakovec.

Max Juhasz, Zagreb, January 2016.

About project Faces in Grain #4 pg. 12.:

About project Faces in Grain #5 pg. 128.: