I travel to lose my self. I love losing my self. Cause when you find your self, well, you can find your self by losing your self.
I first noticed Klavdij Sluban in a film documentary about Henry Cartier Bresson: ‘L’amour de court (Just Plain Love) I watched in early 2000s. In the documentary, Bresson featured several French photographer, one of them was Sluban.
He was at his late 20s at that time, a young photographer who conducted long term project witnessing daily life in adolescent prisons in several countries. What attracted me was he was not only photographing them, he also conducted photography workshop for this kids by gave them disposable cameras for each of them.
Since then, I always scrutinize his works.
Yet until quite some time a ago I got the chance to meet him in a workshop during his visit in Indonesia. I met him before the workshop began and we threw smile. With long grey hair and plain white casual suit and sandal, my first impression on him was he’s quite low profile.
After two hours, I blatantly saw that he has a good sense of humor as well, unlike his photographs which are dark and gloomy and sometime depressive, this monsiour in his early 50s is warm and wise and all.
The workshop began by he introducing himself as a penguin he photographed in Kerguelen Islands, a small Island in the south of Indian Ocean close to to the South Pole.
He was the first photographer who assigned for artistic mission there and was supposed to take photograph of all things and that, including penguins.
“When I was walking, suddenly I saw this one and it’s very difficult for them to walk away from the group. When I saw him, I was quite desperate in this island and from the north of Africa it takes you two weeks by boat and I saw this little penguins and I thought ‘that’s me as the penguin,” he jokingly said.
In his series of photographs of the Kerguelen Islands, ‘Happy Days on the Desolation Island’, which was first shown at the prestigious Recontres d’Arles Festival in 2012, Klavdij Sluban presents his impressions of living in such extreme natural conditions.
“It’s very difficult to travel, it’s impossible to be with the others, to cope with the others, but still you have to live on.”
Rather than taking assignment, he prefer to choose his own projects. Most of them are taken during his long journey: Around the Black Sea: “Balkan Transit”, Tokyo: “Winter Travels”, Jerusalem: “Paradise Lost”, The Baltic Sea: “Other Shores”, Central America: “America to America”, and travel in Trans-Siberian from Russia and China: “Transsibérades”.
“So this is the way I’d like to travel, slow and meditative. No internet connection. Nowadays to be connected you have to be disconnected.”
Throughout his works, Sluban remains faithful to the art of black and white photography, using carefully chosen techniques to present his trademark emphatic darkness.
However, Sluban says that the darkness lies in the eye of the beholder, for there is always a highlight in each one of his photos, a bright point to be attained out of our darkness.
“The first person I met when I traveled is my self and the first I discovered is my self. It’s not always a good encounter, as you can see, sometimes quite scary, dark. But I tried to live with it.”
During the two-hours workshop, he stressed that it’s so important the way of showing our photos, because nowadays there are so many ways of showing our photo.
He himself prefer to do slide shows as the way of showing his photos, which means series photos in a row, with certain music.
“Because it gives different perception of the body of work. and when I say body of work was cycle, because I always work by cycles, which means I never show just one photo, I show a series of photo.”
By showing photo series, he said, it’s his way of showing reality doesn’t exists.
“I always show my work in a way there’s no story to be told or to be understood, it’s just my perception of the world.”
“What you see is different from what I see. But also what your neighbor see and feel now is different from what you feel and see.”
“It’s own perception of the world and it goes through out my feelings.”
That’s why he doesn’t work for newspaper, news agency or assignment.
“I work on project I decide to work on, by my self, because I feel it, because I know that I can do something there, because I also know that I will going back there, I will feel something,” he stated.
In his project Entre Parenthèses: young prisoners in Fleury-Merogis in former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, he showed his two ways of how he perceive the world.
“These both aspects which from me is freedom, traveling, and the other is only confinement prison. They both speak of exile. My family, me are exile. It’s difficult to say where is home. I’m at home, here.
In order to share his passion of photography, he did workshop with them. He concluded that he didn’t want to come to a jail like in a zoo and take photos.
“I share with the kids photography, I gave them cameras, and take photos together. I dont show what a jail look like, I show what I feel when I’m in the jail.”
Which means, press nowadays is not interest in that kind of photography, he said, because press wants photos to illustrate, so that we can point at this and that.
“My photos maybe are more questions than answers.”
He then explained that photography nowadays is like propaganda in politics, it has to touch you in the first level.
“Photography is a very poor tool in itself but it can be very deep can go really deep, but it takes time. It takes time to be taken. It takes time to be looked at.”
“This is my main reason why I do photography, to share my feeling, and it’s absolutely not important the wide world. The most essential thing that people understand or not my photography. I just hope that it is being felt. That you feel something when you look at it.”
Like music, he continued, there is some easy listening music and people will sing it under the shower but it doesn’t last long, and in other hand, you got music that was more complex, more difficult to get into.
“Maybe my photography is more like the second kind.”
“There is distance from what I saw and how I felt, and this was the most difficult part in photography; the distance.”
“What’s the distance for you?,” he asked us.
One guy in the corner perfectly answered the question: “The distance for me of course related to the space between us, it’s related to the space you created with your photographs that I see and within that space there is strangeness that I have never seen. Yet at the same time, we can actually feel what are you trying to say in your photographs. So, well, the physical distance is actually far away, it felt close.”
Sluban then explained that photography is about space and time. “When you travel you see certain space and time but also when you go to a jail, it’s a condensation of space and time — photography in jail. This is where space and time reach the knot of life. the current of life
Nobody can feel good in the jail, he said, but at the same time there was a physical distance but he also creates other distance which was his own feeling.
“This is the reason why to know somebody you take time, to know the space you also take time. The more distance I create with the subject, the closer I get to my self as well.
For example, if he take photographs in Indonesia now, and come back home to Paris, maybe he will look at the photographs in one year or two like he did in his previous project.
“This distance is also keeps me away from what I experience. This makes me go in order to the core, to the heart of the experience.”
A very well spent two hours with Klavdij Sluban.