It is amazing how, oftentimes, we can face certain works by an artist and the works themselves are able to clearly convey a person’s experience to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. In the midst of a herd of photographers-businessmen, the work of these artists is a breath of fresh air as it speaks deeply, expresses something that everyone can understand in a personal way, and exist so out of necessity, out of urgency, not to satisfy one’s ego.
Lidija’s work is such that, at a certain point, the purity and necessity that are part of her research are conveyed to the viewer through different types of work, different mediums and a relentless introspective search. This is the driving force behind her work: introspective research.
As is natural, when a work arises from a sincere personal need, its creation process is nothing but a mirror of that same sincerity. Lidija presents us with images that finely tell of her fears, her needs, her moods; but all of it tells of ours as well because, as I said before, Lidija speaks of herself by speaking for all of us.
Through the creation of these images that we could visually link to some back to the late 1800s or, in her words, to spirit photography, we are confronted with the reality of the human mind and what defines us as human beings. Hers are, for all intents and purposes, poems about being human: with gentleness, elegance and a hint of restlessness, her quest skillfully moves toward the most innate part of the self, searching for motivations and understanding of that “I” that is as close as it is distant.
The double exposures thus, carry a layering of being, a motion that in its naturalness creates the conditions for a visceral search. But the result is nothing dirty, chaotic or whatever: it is, instead, an incredible, elegant and orderly overlapping emotions and sensations, of the need to be and the invitation to understand.
This is why Lidija’s work, in my opinion, deserves more than a closer look: to understand her images means to go beyond the surface, to explore the self in its most visceral and primordial form and to get to discover, with some natural fear, one’s deepest nature.
I will stop here to leave you with this incredible, personal and, at some points, very intimate interview.
Hello Lidija, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Tell me a little about yourself: who are you, where are you from and how did you get in touch with the world of photography? What made you choose this medium as an expressive tool?
Well, the most important fact about me is that I am multi-cultural. I was born in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia. When I tell this fact in interviews, my interview partners correct me or rather add the politically and geographically correct fact that this is Serbia today. However, I prefer the term former Yugoslavia because that term refers to the conglomerate of six republics that was very fragile and politically unstable and fell apart after the Yugoslav Wars. I mention this because it is a proof for the multi-diversity that defines Europe and, as we witness today, still bears the potential for conflicts and various interpretations of territorial borders.
I left former Yugoslavia when I was four years old. I grew up in Western Germany. My parents did not want to disconnect me from my home country or „domovina“ and so I attended two schools. I was raised between two political systems, socialism and capitalism, and although for a young girl this can be irritating and maybe stand in the way of feeling at home in the new country, it has broadened my horizon, taught me to think dialectically, and certainly made me more open towards different cultures, religions and beliefs.
It happened most naturally for me to choose a profession that combined cultures and so I studied languages.
Photography and movies however, have always been an important part of my life though for a long time I was only „consuming“ them until I listened to my inner voice that told me to start creating my own work.
Visually, your photography is explicitly reminiscent of shots from the late 1800s and early 1900s. What are your main influences? Are there photographers who have marked your artistic history?
It’s interesting you refer to the 1800s and early 1900s. I was hugely fascinated by ghost photography and the aesthetics of pictorialist photographers. I especially loved the mood of pictorialist photography, the depth and in a way three-dimensional feel of this movement. It was not about the technique or the exact reproduction of an object but more about the ambiance and atmosphere surrounding the object or motif. For me, pictorialism reaches out into the art of painting. I entered the photographic world at a time when cell phones were equipped with nearly perfect camera features and a variety of photography apps were flooding the app stores.
Artists who have influenced my work are Max Ernst, Dora Maar, André Breton, Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, to name but only a very few, in no specific order.
I would like to bring to the readers’ attention the fact that your work develops in both photography and video. I would like to ask a question that is completely arbitrary and out of personal curiosity, but which I think might be a good point to specify: is there, for you, a substantial difference between photography and video? In your work, what do you favor in video that is not there in your photography and vice versa? And what, on the other hand, do you find in both video and photography?
Yes, there is a substantial difference between photography and video. A photograph freezes a specific moment and shows an excerpt of a scene. Every artistic photographer has the immanent need to express a certain emotion, be it in a portrait, a still life, or a landscape. For example, everyone knows the feeling that you have after ascending a high hill to reach a castle or a fortress (and Germany has quite a few!). A beautiful view enfolds before your eyes as a reward for your effort. Then you see almost everyone rotating their cell phones and swiping from one side to the other to capture the panorama and that specific feel. But can you do that? I remember that after developing films I was often disappointed that the photo did not represent the fascination of a specific moment, or not enough. As a digital photographer, I started experimenting with various photography apps to add this missing element, ie „the mood of the moment“.
In a video, on the other hand, you can move and capture a wider scope of a scene. As I said, a photograph freezes a specific moment. When you manipulate it by editing or double exposing it, you can add a narrative aspect to it and viewers will feel the „story“ behind it. They will add their own sentiment to it. Which is why photography interacts more with the beholder’s imagination. In a video, the artist defines more elements and directs the beholder’s imagination to a more specific direction. In other words, a photograph can tell more with less means.
Let’s talk about photography. It is clear that, looking at your work, we are dealing with a highly personal and intimate experience of yours. Where does the need to tell this personal side of you come from? Is there a kind of research on which your image-making process is based?
Yes. The research of the human mind. In my teenage years, I have read Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung to find answers to my questions. In philosophy, I was fascinated by the structuralists and post-structuralists such as Jacques Lacan and his concept of the mirror stage, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault and Julia Kristeva. In literature, it was the inner monologue, the silent soliloquy of our restless minds. James Joyce will always be mentioned first on my list, together with Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Bernhard.
Self-portraiture is a very thorny side of photography, several photographers have difficulty bringing themselves to the foreground using this method, and I can say, being a photographer myself, that the difficulty in experimenting with self-portraiture for me is based on the little awareness I have of my physical self and the fact that I’m used to project myself in external subjects. Instead, in your work the self-portrait is a key feature that, by association with other images, achieves a further level of storytelling. This way of storytelling is alien to me, so I ask you: what is self-portraiture for you? How did you start experimenting in this direction and what thoughts do you have about it?
That is a very interesting observation when you say you place self-portraiture between the „little awareness I have of my physical self“ and the fact that you are used to projecting yourself in external subjects. I think that is the key sentiment on which self-portraiture is based, this little awareness of our physical selves. When we look into the mirror, it gives us an answer. We all have played with the phone setting option to mirror or „unmirror“ self-portraits. Why do we do that? Because we do have a specific image of what we „really“ look like based on the face that we see in a mirror. But is that the same face that others see when looking at us? The left-and-right-brain theories can give some answers but also raise new questions on that topic.
One year ago, after a chemotherapy, I ended up with seeing another self in the mirror. Many cancer survivors know how it feels to see the changing image of yourself in the mirror. We look different when the hair is gone. For example. I began taking pictures of myself to get used to this new self. And it helped me. There is a lot of very interesting literature on the healing effect of self-portraiture. For cancer survivors, it can be a method to become friends with an alienated new self. Well, for me it was a method that I had discovered by accident and that helped me a lot.
An additional narrative level is definitely achieved through the use of multiple exposure. In your case, a multitude of elements are superimposed on your self-portraits that, personally, suggest symbolic meanings and guide me in a certain implicit direction, such as a butterfly, the branches of a tree, objects, and sometimes words. How did you approach the idea of double exposure? What meaning do these elements and symbols have for you?
Ah, my favourite subject. Multiple exposures.
As I already mentioned, the photos I took often left me unsatisfied. I am not talking about the light, the tones, the resolution, or the perspective but of the fact that I missed something. Photos felt one-dimensional and flat. Too flat for stories. So I began experimenting with the double exposure technique and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. I had found a way to add the missing element to my photos. Maybe it sounds a bit odd but it transported me to a new visual dimension. On Instagram, I was fascinated by the double exposure work of Adam Goldberg (@theadamgoldberg). His images were telling a story. And I felt the urgent need to tell my own stories. Can you visualize a memory, a longing, despair, or sadness? Yes, you can. By melting two or more images I created a three-dimensional photo that expressed my inner world. Some of them, I published but many more I just took for myself to help me to better understand myself and the world around me. There you have it again, the healing potential of photography!
You are definitely taking us with you on a very particular, personal, subjective and introspective journey. “Think you’re escaping and running into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” is the description you put in your Instagram bio, and it is an excerpt from James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have a feeling that this sentence may be a brief summary of your entire poetics and what you attempt to express through your art and photography. Could you explain the personal reasons behind the choice of this phrase? How did it become a description of your work?
You are a very good observer. When I chose that quote from Joyce’s „Ulysses“ (which is the book of books for me), I felt I was embarking on a new journey, my very own inner odyssey. On Instagram, we all have our dedicated little space that we can use as a playground for our creativity. I did not know where the journey would take me but I loved experimenting and getting feedback from people around the globe.
I love that quote from „Ulysses“. I have read almost all existing second literature on Joyce’s novel and I have many notebooks filled with my own diagrams and sketches to better understand the intricate and endless double meanings of the book. „Ulysses“ is a novel you do not read. You experience it. I adored the way Joyce constructed the framework for a one-day odyssey within two covers of a single book. Every chapter has its own rules and its own temperature — with an abundance of references to Homer’s epic work.
An implicit aspect that I perceive in your work is a kind of search for a personal balance in the whole. This is an entirely personal opinion, of course, but this feeling of searching for balance in the whole is conveyed to me and I myself, looking at your Instagram profile, am somehow brought into this search. Do you find yourself in agreement with these statements of mine? Do you think they may reflect, in some way, even a part of your work and research?
Again you read my photographic work right. Yes, it is a kind of search for a personal balance in the whole. I use myself to depict the individual in a world that sometimes makes us feel at home and protected but at other times unprotected, exposed to harsh winds, and full of irritating ambiguities. So yes, I find myself in agreement with your statements, dear Matteo. In the end, it is all about balance. The balance between right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate, happiness and unhappiness.
If you’d like, I’d love for you to tell me about a shot or series of shots of yours that you are particularly attached to.
Good question. I am most particularly attached to my double exposures with insects. The most obvious association is Kafka, of course. Kafka’s novels but also the movies of Jack Arnold and later David Cronenberg have influenced me a lot. Arnold and Kafka take me back to my childhood days.
The insect photo series deals with fears and anxieties and my message is that we should be embracing both the benevolent and malevolent parts of ourselves.
Let’s turn to video now. I’ll start by saying that the mini videos that are on your Instagram profile are really peculiar and fascinating, especially the choreography and the movements that you perform with your body that are combined with this sort of stop-motion perfectly return the concepts related to your poetics and, perhaps, are themselves a poem in motion. How do these mini videos come to life? What do you attempt to represent and express through this kind of movement that is so intimate, personal and expressionistic?
„A poem in motion“. I love that description of yours. Yes, that is what they are, little poems. I never leave the house without my tripod. I travel a lot and one day I began moving in front of the camera, not knowing where this would take me. I noticed that I moved my arms in a specific way and I enjoyed walking backwards. It is my intuitive body language in the truest sense of the word. Another thing I never miss to take with me when I leave the house are my headphones. So every time I find a charming place, I have this idea to take its energy with me. We all do that, by collecting stones or shells at the beach, for example. Instead of that I put my tripod with the camera in front of me, in the middle of the woods, for example, and start moving to the music in my ears. You call it expressionistic and you are right. These little poems in motion help me to explain the inexplicable, to find a balance by spreading my arms as if I had wings. Like a bird or a butterfly. It’s my very own form of „zen“.
How do you come to choose the right environment for these productions? How much does the environment influence your choice in movement and in proposing the place itself as a setting?
The choice is made randomly. Sometimes I feel the energy of a specific place that I want to conserve.
These poems in motion are my micro-meditations. On life, on love, the beauty of nature, the magic of music.
You present yourself to us in a very personal, very intimate way, allowing us to observe you as you exist. Your reality is a fluid state in which you move and become part of by being fluid yourself, occupying a space dedicated to you and communicating with the rest of the environment. What do you think about these statements? Do you find yourself in agreement?
Again I am amazed at your keen observations. Yes, I like your statements and they define what I do. It is about fluidity, life itself is like a wave, a river, it flows and flows and even when it ends, it flows into a new dimension. And you are right, I communicate with my environment. I can recommend that to everyone, to find moments in a day to communicate more with your environment, to cherish the beauty of nature and respect the life of flora and fauna around you.
You have made several video contents for a number of musical artists, some of which reflect in a relative way the small video contents we have talked about so far, and some of which, on the other hand, differ graphically and, I guess, also in the aspect of production. Speaking of the loops, the production of these seems to start from a morphing idea that, however, remains so only on a technical level. How do you conceive of these works? How do you come to decide on the subject and the necessary movement related to the music?
The loop videos you mention are movies made with minimal means, so to speak. The ever-repeating flow of movements can have the effect of a litany prayer. For me, it has a meditative character. We can be mesmerized by the combination of repeating movements and music. I was happy enough that the artists I made the videos for always granted me a maximum of freedom of expression regarding the „script“ and the imagery. For the song „Winter Kills“, I used a photo of my parents from the sixties and „beamed“ them into a winter landscape. I love these surreal adventures.
A loop that has fascinated me a lot is “I Came To Your Party Dressed As A Shadow” by Piano Magic, it is always an overlay but, in this case, it seems almost like a metamorphosis between building and subject of the final portrait. Could you talk about how the concept of this loop came about and how you made the video?
Oh, I am really happy you like that loop. Yes, I had a lot of fun creating that video. I listened to the lyrics and certain images came to my mind. I then took a deep look into my archive and chose an image of me that was taken a short time before my cancer therapies and melted it with the photo of a building in Berlin that had this typical flair of old Berlin.
I was going through a difficult time in my life and that video helped me to re-establish a balance I had lost.
On the other hand, on the other hand, the stop-motion technique is used to animate certain figures and characters and to symbolically express concepts in my opinion conveyed very effectively by this technique. Could you tell me about how the video “Faire Semblant” by Marlène Colle was born?
Thanks again for the compliment! The stop-motion videos are my little babies into which I put a lot of love and care. And time! This method consists of many, many small parts and you have to keep a close watch over continuity and, alas, the light. The shooting of the video takes several days or even weeks and you have to make sure that the light will always be the same. By trial and error, I have found ways to solve this tricky problem. Nota bene, I am not a professional photographer but a self-made artist.
For the stop-motion videos I shoot tons of photos. The post-production is the most difficult part because the stop-motion flow has to be timed with the rhythm of the song and the lyrics.
I saw Marlène Colle in Hamburg in 2020 where she supported Agnes Obel. We then met on Instagram and one day she came up with this stop-motion idea for one of her French chansons. Rosemarie was the name of Marlène’s grandmother who died of cancer and I chose that name for the protagonist in this video. It is a very personal video for Marlène and me.
We have come to the end of the interview. One last question before I thank you and say goodbye: what has photography taught you about yourself? What is one of your personal aspects in which you can say photography has changed you or in which it has left a mark?
I would like to thank you for this very detailed look at my work, Matteo. It’s an honour for me to be presented in such an avant-garde magazine.
Photography is a very creative process and it has helped me to find a visual language for my emotional world. It’s like a protected sphere where I feel free and sovereign.
Thank you again for lending yourself to this interview. Do you have any particular projects that you are currently working on? What are your plans for the future?
I am in the process of creating another video for the The Violets. They have sent me photos from their studio sessions while recording their new album (with my artworks on the cover) and I can tell you that this work is a lot of fun for me and I am super happy about this very special collaboration between Germany and Australia.
My next project will be a short movie about womanhood and motherhood. And in September a record will be published with my voice in one song. I am not singing but speaking a Chabrol film dialogue. Fun!
Thank you so much for this interesting interview, Matteo and team.
I would like to sincerely thank Lidija again.
If you’d like to follow her work, you can find her Instagram profile here.