May 13, 2021
Photography by Radovan Baran
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Slovakian self-taught photographer Radovan Baran's creative vision has been shaped by his passion for cinema and architecture. The movies of Wim Wenders, have profoundly impacted his visual style. Inspired by the story of Philip Winter in "Alice in den Städten", when visiting the US, Radovan got hold of the sx-70 that was used for the very first time in this road movie and started taking instant Polaroid pictures. Through projects and concepts of his favourite architect Le Corbusier, he became familiar with Lucien Hervé and his architectural images. His oeuvre has become one of the primary sources of inspiration throughout the evolution of his artistic process. A pivotal moment in Radovan's growth happened when he visited the retrospective exhibition of Louis Faurer’s work. Fascinated by his immersive black and white photographs of people in the streets, Radovan began pursuing street photography. His approach is characterised by minimalism and geometric compositions with the human element occurring unexpectedly. Faceless figures seem consumed by architectural forms and styles. Following his visual instinct, Radovan endeavours to attain unusual compositions of familiar places and capture interactions between people and surfaces. Radovan's work is undoubtedly influenced by the atmosphere of his hometown Bratislava.
“My approach is characterised by minimalism and geometric compositions with the human element occurring unexpectedly. Faceless figures seem consumed by architectural forms and styles. Following my visual instinct, I endeavour to attain unusual compositions of familiar places and capture interactions between people and surfaces. A visual connection between unsuspecting subjects and urban spaces transforms random fleeting moments of strangers on the street into something abstract and sculptural.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH RADOVAN BARAN
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Radovan please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
RADOVAN BARAN: I was born and raised in a small town in East Slovakia not far away from the borders with Ukraine. I was always curious about photography. Back in the analogue days, my father used to transform our tiny bathroom into a darkroom. I can still vividly remember myself and my older sister. We would be waiting behind the bathroom door, impatiently waiting to see freshly made black and white prints. My passion for photography grew over the years. However, I never took any serious steps towards it. Instead, I chose to study law. During my summer breaks, I used to travel a lot and tried out many different jobs. I worked as an order picker in a warehouse in Northern Ireland, as a tourist guide in Tunisia, as a sales assistant in an antique bookshop in Prague, Czech Republic or as a news editor back home in Slovakia. After graduating from law school, I pursued a career in International and EU Law and stayed a couple of years in Belgium. I believe all those very diverse working experiences and my several stays abroad have sparked again my beautiful relationship with photography. Now I am based between Bratislava and Vienna and photography has become one of my primary passions and catalysts in life.
TPL: Where do you find inspiration? Do you have any favourite artists and photographers?
RB: The movies of Wim Wenders (in particular his “Himmel über Berlin”) have profoundly impacted my photographic language. Inspired by the story of Philip Winter in “Alice in the Cities”, when visiting the US, I got hold of the sx-70 that was used for the very first time in this road movie and started experimenting with taking instant Polaroid pictures. Through projects and concepts of my favourite architect Le Corbusier, I became familiar with Lucien Hervé and his architectural images. His oeuvre has become one of the primary sources of inspiration throughout the evolution of my artistic process. A pivotal moment in my growth as an artist happened when I visited the retrospective exhibition of Louis Faurer’s work in Granada, Spain in 2017. I was fascinated with his immersive black and white photographs of people in the streets and began pursuing street photography.
One of my most favourite contemporary photographers is Andre D. Wagner. I love his street and documentary style analogue photographs capturing the lives of communities of colour in Brooklyn, New York.
TPL: What do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
RB: My approach is characterised by minimalism and geometric compositions with the human element occurring unexpectedly. Faceless figures seem consumed by architectural forms and styles. Following my visual instinct, I endeavour to attain unusual compositions of familiar places and capture interactions between people and surfaces. A visual connection between unsuspecting subjects and urban spaces transforms random fleeting moments of strangers on the street into something abstract and sculptural.
My work is undoubtedly influenced by the atmosphere of my hometown Bratislava. The bridges connecting the two banks of the Danube river play a decisive role in many of my images. Ever-present brutalist buildings from the communist era, city’s rich industrial heritage, dreamy “Ostalgie” in the air and the ever-changing skyline dominated by contemporary towers are visual fundamentals in my photo work that I intuitively search for whenever and wherever carrying my camera. The motifs of bridges, cranes, lifeless roofs and the stairs seemingly leading to nowhere dominate my photographic language.
TPL: Do you have a favourite place to go photograph?
RB: Before Covid-19, I used to photograph mainly when travelling abroad. Naturally, this has dramatically changed in 2020. In the recent months, I developed a new routine. I cross the Old Bridge ("Starý Most") over the Danube in Bratislava that is in fact the town's newest bridge completely rebuilt in 2015. Then I walk on the right bank of the river and return to the city centre by getting across the SNP Bridge ("Most SNP", former "New Bridge"), commonly referred to as the UFO Bridge due to the shape of its observation deck. I can never get enough of those spectacular views.
TPL: What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
RB: The practical experience of many street photographers may tell a different story, but luckily, I personally have never had a negative experience photographing people on the street so far. Of course, many people gaze and try to understand what is happening when they notice my camera, some get suspicious or concerned, some on the other hand do not even realise they are being photographed and some do not mind it at all, they want to learn about me and my photography projects.
Ever-present brutalist buildings from the communist era, city’s rich industrial heritage, dreamy “Ostalgie” in the air and the ever-changing skyline dominated by contemporary towers are visual fundamentals in my work that I intuitively search for whenever and wherever carrying my camera.
TPL: When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
RB: I know where to go in order to find elements and motifs that dominate my work but I almost never compose my photographs in advance. I rather let the action unfold in front of my lens. It’s about fusing my vision and natural instinct.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
RB: I can clearly remember the moment when I got my Fujifilm X70 and my excitement for it. It was exactly what I needed to wander through city streets in search of decisive moments. Now I use Fujifilm X100V and I recently started experimenting with Ricoh GR III. They are both excellent cameras for street photography. I also frequently use my long-time companion Nikon D7500.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
RB: I would like to experiment more and blur existing boundaries between genres, styles and techniques. In the coming months and years, I intend to focus primarily on documentary work. Pursuing photography full-time as a photo editor or a photojournalist would be a dream come true. Before that, I would love to have my first solo exhibition. It must be a fantastic feeling to see your work printed and exhibited at a museum or gallery.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
RB: I am currently working on my 'Twin City' project. As a Central European, I grew up in an ethnically diverse region where you can easily cross four different countries within an hour. Borders are everywhere. When I was born in 1985, crossing some of them was an act that seemed impossible for many of us living behind the Iron Curtain. Today, if you fall asleep on the train, after a short nap, you may very well find yourself across one of those once unreachable borders.
I aspire to explore and document the societal transformations in the small region between Vienna and Bratislava where physical borders disappeared more than 30 years ago. However, invisible boundaries persist and people living so close to each other still exist in realities that might seem too different and distant.
In another project that is still at a very early stage, I intend to explore the inner world and lives of introverts. Being an introvert myself, it always attracted me to address this topic through a photography project.
The last issue that is keeping my mind busy is deeply personal. The Covid-19 pandemic has directly affected my closest family. It is still very fresh and I am not sure when or if I will ever be ready to use the power of photography to tackle this subject.
TPL: "When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...
RB: When I am not tiptoeing through city streets with a camera in my hands, you can probably spot me working out at a gym or enjoying the newest movie of Pedro Almodóvar or Paolo Sorrentino at a cinema. On a sunny summer day, you can find me somewhere on a beach reading the latest book of Haruki Murakami or Michel Houellebecq with 90’s electronic music in my ears. On any other day, I will be happy to visit an art gallery or a photography museum."