The Balkans

Hi, everybody! I’m checking in today from Boston (!) with some photos and thoughts on my experience traveling throughout the Balkans this July. I just returned from Berlin, Germany last night and am stateside for the next couple of weeks, so contact me if you’re interested in booking photo sessions, ordering prints, or catching up over coffee rather than e-mail.

It's evidently been a wild few months, full of travels, challenges and some unanticipated (but exciting) changes of plans. To that end, I’m incredibly excited to have accepted an internship in photography, videography and marketing with a social enterprise in Guatemala for the fall! I leave Boston for Panajachel in mid-September. In the meantime, you can keep up with regular updates on Instagram and subscribe to my blog to get notified each time I post! (And on yet another tangential note, my favorite shots from Jordan are now up on my Travel page here.) 

So with that, more on the Balkans. There is a propensity for travel to seem glamorous, or carefree. Especially as a photographer, it’s my literal job to seek and capture beauty, both where it is apparent and in the seemingly unremarkable. And prior to saying anything further, it’s important for me to note here how astoundingly lucky I am to have the opportunities I have, and to travel to the extent that I do. Of course a ton of hard work goes into saving for travel, taking and editing images, and conducting research- not to mention learning new languages, getting accustomed to new cultures and the like. Still, I’m quite lucky to do what I do and to be able to do what I love in so many exceptional places.

Nonetheless, not all of my travel experiences are as wonderful as they seem (or even positive, to be frank). My experience in the Balkans was one such challenge. In the interest of keeping things vague, it was a significant departure from my typical mode of solo-travel and full of frustrations unrelated to the places themselves. Still, it was a learning experience, and one which underscored my passion for solo travel. It also introduced me to a region of the world I hadn’t yet traveled to, and one which I hope to return to in the next couple of years.

The Balkans is a stunning region of the world- one with a tremendously complex and rich history. It’s a region in which ‘truth’ is predicated upon the borders and political context in which you find yourself. Claims to borders, wars, casualties and even operational definitions for genocides and massacres mutate in accordance with each country. Though this is perhaps true of any place to an extent, the Balkans is a deeply politicized space, with seemingly every person and place bearing a direct and complicated relationship to history. Especially in Belgrade and Sarajevo, communist era architecture and bombed out structures mingle with modern shops and beautiful, multicolored edifices. In each location, I was in a persistent state of awe at how beautiful of a part of a world it is.  I began my travels in Sarajevo, an incredible little city in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Between 1992 and 1996, Sarajevo suffered the longest siege of a city during the country’s war. In the years since the war, however, the city has undergone an amazing transformation. A river winds throughout Sarajevo, offering some basis for navigation, a lovely place to walk and a source of massive slugs that crowd the sidewalk whenever it rains. A division between ‘new’ and ‘old Sarajevo carves the city in two, dividing its newer metropolitan area from older mosques, churches and crowded shops. War memorials and vestiges of grenade attacks punctuate the city’s winding cobblestone streets, a persistent reminder of its history amidst its significant contemporary shifts. Within the first couple of days of our time in the city, in fact, we witnessed the Procession of the Remains- an annual event in which a truck, filled with newly unearthed remains from the genocide at Srebrenica, proceeds through Bosnia and Herzegovina before eventually arriving at the site of Srebrenica itself. Bereaved family members, friends and others adorn the massive truck with flowers at each of its stops. The experience was evocative of the same sense of vague discomfort at many of the Rwandan memorials I visited. There is, of course, a horror at witnessing vestiges of such human atrocity but there is also a sense of possible appropriation- that spectating something so visceral and traumatic for the people at hand is somehow inappropriate. I tried to approach the experience, especially photographing it, with as much sensitivity as possible. The images below were taken at the Procession:

Lush, green hills surround Sarajevo, and crawl across the entirety of the country, simultaneously functioning as a constant reminder of the snipers who hid there during the war, and as a source of new beauty. Clustered buildings, villages and graveyards alike nestle between the rolling hills. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a substantial Muslim population, though its culture regarding religious practice and adherence differs from that of Jordan. Religion is a nuanced phenomenon and subjective by default, but it was fascinating to see divergent practices between countries and regions. The latter became especially acute, and all the more tragic, during our visit to Srebrenica. There is an abundance of literature online on the genocide at Srebrenica, but needless to say, it was a heavy day (and one on which I drew many parallels to my experiences at Rwandan memorial sites). 

The following photos were taken en route and at Tito’s famous war bunker, carved into the side of a mountain and incredibly preserved:

After Bosnia, we headed to Serbia, before passing through Macedonia and eventually concluding in Greece. I unfortunately didn’t shoot as many photos for the latter portion of the trip, but I’ll share a few from Serbia and Macedonia below. Macedonia is easily the strangest place I’ve ever been. The city of Skopje is full of pseudo-historical statues, most of which were erected in the last 5 years or so. In combination with its eclectic mix of architectural styles and contentious politics, the whole place feels a bit like the Twilight Zone. You can read a bit more about it here. 

Thanks for bearing with me through such a long post- I appreciate you following along, and hope you enjoy! Images and words from Germany to come soon! xx