It’s sort of a… crap. The photos themselves would probably be fine, if I wasn’t a Serb living in Serbia. Basically, the message they send is: “Serbia is a dirty, miserable, desparate, depressive, lonely, potentionaly-agressive, almost hopeless place where people harvest corn by hand, plus Serbs are all poor, they are demonstrating and fighting with police all the time.”
Even when text or photo-caption is showing a tiny bit of something different, the photos are hiding it. You don’t see Belgrade’s glamurous night life, EXIT festival (one of the best festivals in Europe, confirmed), GUCA festival (as much as I disslike it personaly), most different ethnical and cultural differences (especially in Vojvodina), natural beauties, tasty food, wines or rakijas. No joyful children or famous sportsmen.
Ok, so it’s a political story. It only deals with political part of Serbia and Serbs in general. Why dealing with politics only? I know—it’s because that’s how the world sees us, as a nation still in war with someone. So NG didn’t choose to show the world something they didn’t know. (more on this a bit further) Just stick it to a in-a-war-and-generally-very-fucked-up way, and you’re safe.
So, people will read this, thinking it’s some kind of a story about the country and the people as a whole. Even if it said “this is a political story”, people would still get it as a story about entire country, it’s people and culture. And what would they think?
But the conclusion here is not just about this specific NG story. NG has always been dealing with exoticism to me. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
Exoticism, by definition, is “the charm of the unfamiliar.” Scholar Alden Jones defines exoticism in art and literature as the representation of one culture for consumption by another.
And this really looks like a good example. Representation of Serbia in the West (and media in general) was like this ever since the war in the ‘90. It seems to me that what you know of a place before you get there is what you bring back. There is nothing you (can) learn. You just go there, and confirm your preconsumptions with every shutter release. Only the brave ones learn something, and actually show it.
That’s what documentary photography should be about. Learning about people and places, but really learning about something new and bringing it out. Unfortunately, confirming your audience’s preconsumptions is what doc. photography is so often about. I guess it sells better that way.
To NG: don’t make this crap anymore, please. We don’t live in the ‘90. Thanks.