September 24th, at 19h
Maja Ilić decided that the exhibition of her war photographs is titled “NO PRICE TAG” because she wanted to focus on one question “Can everything really be sold and bought?”, and what is the real price of human life – the extremely stable currency on the world market, where war is one of the most profitable trade and economic branches. Observing her photographs separated from the purpose-oriented (news agency), as well as the daily political and ideological context, I became convinced that in their gallery presentation and from the central point of view, one should move from that first line of the “visual front” to a somewhat distant position.
Let’s take as an example a photograph taken somewhere between the two coasts of the Drina River, at dawn, in early 1992, where four adults (one woman, three men, where one man is armed and dressed up in uniform), one cow, and a few sacks were transported across the water, covered by the morning sun with bloody red lights. It is about an authentic and shocking testimony of a dramatic historical moment. Overcoming the documentary passage, on the trail of biblical, mythological or historical compositions, such as the performances of Noah boat, or the “Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Jericho, or the romantic “The Wreck of Hope” by Caspar David Friedrich, the scene here attains the contours and strength of the archetypal. At the moment of the creation of this photo, which paraphrases Andrić describes as “On the Drina Farry”, Maja Ilić can present comprehensive and precise photography. Observed from a distant position, it appears as an emblematic image that war is a painful and uncertain transition from one shore to another, from one reality to another.
They are not many women that are war photojournalists. Maja Ilić photographed the Yugoslav battlefield between 1990 and 1993 when she stopped documenting war photography. She witnessed many key political decisions (Tuđman, Miloševic, Kucan, Izetbegovic, Bulatovic, Gligorov…) and their implementation on the ground throughout the territory of former Yugoslavia. Her documentary, live, news photos do not possess a specter of spectacularity, they do not have a breaking news character, nor insist on the suspense and overwhelming drama of the devastating moment. These photographs are testimonies. With these photographs, the war is described as a completely ordinary ritual of everyday life, as a boys game, as a series of scenes that in their simplicity and apparent “normality” can be observed and experienced as images of the war’s staging, such as photo captions from the shooting of a war film. Unfortunately, it’s about the real world, about his most terrible face, about a game with a fatal outcome. In some photographs, the dramatic and cruelty of the war is discreetly intertwined by details and accents that symbolize the fragility of life, innocence, and tenderness (a rosy girl’s coat who stands in a column of soldiers in camouflage uniforms, or just flourished flower on a tree above the body of the murdered boy). With her special, penetrating and insightful view, her war photographs document and reveal the elements and signs of absurdity, paradox, black humor, and even grotesque. In the function of an additional tool in reading these photographs, it is important to mention several technical-technological details. At the beginning of the nineties, when these photographs were created, the film was still in operation, and photo reporters were also wearing equipment for developing photographs that were more than a hundred pounds. The synopsis of a recorded event, which accompanied the photo was done according to the agency standards, it was written on the typewriter. It was the decade of the Suton of a long, analogous civilization epoch, and Daybreak of the digital era. It was a decade in which one country became a part of history. These wrecks are still trapped in the dark depths. The photographs of Maja Ilić reveal the pieces of truth from this sunken world.
Maja Ilic was born in Belgrade, 1965. She graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Belgrade, where she worked as an Assistant at the Department of Internal Medicine. She graduated at the Higher School of Journalism in Belgrade – Department for Photographers. She completed her Master’s Degree in Diplomacy and International Relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, the United States of America.
The first serious interest in photography began in 1986, when, in order to learn more about photography, she enrolled in the Higher School of Journalism – the Department for Photographers, at the Yugoslav Institute for Journalism in Belgrade, and in the class of world-famous photographer Tomislav Peternek, which turned out to be a crucial factor in her later determination to deal with photography as one of her great passions and professions. Already next year, and after completing the school and acquiring the Photography Diploma, she starts publishing her first news photographs for the first time in the weekly Politikin Svet, and then starts working for the oldest and most famous Serbian daily newspaper Politika, where she mainly publishes photos from the daily political events including the first conflicts in Kosovo and Metohija. These photos are being noticed by foreign media representatives in Belgrade, and her photographs were first bought by Reuters and Associated Press, in 1990, the Agency France Presse (AFP) called her to begin working for this renowned World Press Agency. For the AFP, she mainly covers political and sports events, and with the begging of the conflict in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, in the period 1990-1993. she shifts the focus to a war-photography that gained her a great reputation, as it is published daily by the world’s most famous press, Time, Washington Post, Guardian, Le Figaro, Liberation, Corriere Della Serra, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and many other world-renowned newspapers. With the foundation of a consortium of European national agencies, called the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), she continues to work as a photojournalist within the consortium. As a result of everything that the camera perpetuated in the process of seeing, experiencing, and surviving, in mid-1993, she decides to postpone her cameras and switch to the other side of the testimony of the fate of ordinary people captured during the conflict, this time as a humanitarian worker in United Nations operations, first in the former Yugoslavia, and later in operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the world, until its last installments, from 2002 onwards, in the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva.
This is the first in a series of planned solo exhibitions, which should be realized with thousands of recorded squares for 27 years. On this occasion, photographs that are exhibited were recorded in the period from 1987 to 1993.