Serbs Face The Future – National Geographic

Have you seen recent article of NG about Serbia? It’s called Serbs face the future, and it was photographed by Christopher Anderson, a Magnum and VII photographer.

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.”

This is how we harvest corn in Serbia…

This is how we harvest corn in Serbia…

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.

I’m a photographer from Serbia.

About Darko

I’m a photographer from Serbia.

7 Comments

  1. Another wasted opportunity by the western media. Anyone who comes to Serbia with their bags packed with preconceptions and predudice can get their twisted worldview confirmed easily enough. But anyone who comes with an open mind will soon discover the real Serbia – and they are unlikely to forget the experience.

  2. I’m shocked! Reminds me of the text on Armenia, which are published in the Serbian edition NG several years ago. There was written that Armenian’s cut parks for firewood and do not have electricity and are mostly in the dark. To have a nuclear power plant that will soon explode as Chernobil…

    A few months later I met two girls from Armenia that have the most different impressions about your country…

    I am sad that things always watching NG from somber and sad corner.

  3. I remember reading this National Geographic article recently, albeit very breifly. To be honest I was actually quite surprised at National Geographic for portraying Serbia and the Serbian people in such a single, one-dimensional negative way.

    I have long respected the superb work of National Geographic for many years for their in-depth and usually positive and educational articles. What their article on Serbia demonstrated though was a completely outdated view (if ever such a view existed) and a picture of a country permanantly under a dark cloud of depression. That is not what Serbia is like.

    National Geographic has been one of the very few, small number of western media that I respect, so I find their article on Serbia quite surprising. Particularly when they have covered other countries that are in far far worse situations at the moment in a much more positive light.

    True, Serbia was almostly certainly the worst affected economically in the after effects of the recent conflict, but this amazing country does have so much more to offer that National Geographic has chosen to ignore. Serbia is making slow and steady progress in trying to open their arms to tourism, in my opinion some of Europe's best kept secrets.

    What the world, and indeed Serbia, needs is a much more positive attitude especially when in countries so eager to get back on their feet. National Geographic is respected throughout the world and should really have taken up the opportunity to paint a more positve picture of the region.

    • You comments are spot on. What makes this feature all the more frustrating is that National Geographic enjoys a good reputation for producing well researched an beautifully presented photo stories. In this case, they seem to have been blinded by an out-dated view of romantic rural living.

      Presumably this piece was produced with at least some liaison with the Serbian Tourist Board or similar organisation. I am surprised that they seem to have failed to direct NG's attention to more relevant attractions about Serbia today – elements of Serbian life that all of us here have recognised and enjoyed so easily.

      A missed opportunity by NG, of course. It makes our own work to raise the positive profile of Serbia all the more valuable.

  4. That may be a (elusive) strategy to tell people not to travel, because of global financial crisis?

    You can tell I’m paranoid, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong ;)

  5. I’m so disappointed. I studied Magnum, and Anderson as one of its talented members, at my photojournalism school. One thing our teachers always emphasized was honesty, as there’s always a temptation to go the easier way. Miroslav’s comment on Armenia – very sad too.

  6. excuse me, we aren’t poor its just cauz of the hot weather and some are doing it tough. and there is a glamorous life to Serbia. and david shut ur mouth, u oldie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>