Haunting Photos of Serbia in the Aftermath of War

Matt Lutton's six years in the Balkans resulted in this dark, moving portrait of life after the upheaval of the 1990s.

by Matt Lutton
14 August 2015, 5:45am

An amusement park in the center of Pristina, Kosovo. June 2008.

Matt Lutton is an award-winning Seattle-based photographer and member of the Boreal Collective. Matt will be speaking this Sunday, August 16, in Toronto as part of the annual Boreal Bash.

This photo series has emerged from six years of living and working in the Balkans and is my personal response to the region's confounding atmosphere. I moved to Belgrade in February 2009, and was based there until this year.

During my time in the area I photographed details of society that both reflect and undermine the popular Serbian creation myths. Many of these issues are rooted in the complicated phrase "Only Unity Saves the Serbs," which was popular in the narrative of mass political manipulation during the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars that took place in its vacuum. Serbia is still recovering from the post-traumatic stress of those years, leading to a national confusion about identity and a productive path forward.

I focused on diverse subjects within the Serbian landscape, which are far removed from any reality espoused by politicians. Young men and women are being raised in a divided, uncertain atmosphere and I wanted to capture that essence so that we can further consider the implications of a Balkan region that will be led by this generation. It is impossible to analyze or understand any event in this region without first considering its historical roots. I am interested in exploring and understanding the parts of today's Balkan society that the next generation will read about in their history textbooks. What is happening now in the streets and in political negotiations will have a profound impact on regional stability in the future.

There are many elements that contribute to a hostile and sometimes desperate atmosphere in Serbia today. But there are also moments that show healing and a glimpse at a different future than many have seen for themselves in the last decade. The growing pains of this developing democracy must continue to be carefully documented and explored, as the battles of the 1990s have yet to be finally played out. I've experienced alarming apathy and a lack of compassion from many youth across the Balkans, and I hope to confront them directly with a different picture of the countries and history they will inherit.

See more of Matt's photography on his website or follow him on Instagram.

The famous black birds of Kosovo in flight over Mitrovica on the night of the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. February 2009.

A young man is arrested by police in a park in central Belgrade following a confrontation hours after indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic was captured in Serbia. May 2011.

Young men riding the trams in Belgrade. December 2010.

Families of Srebrenica victims gather at the Potocari memorial to bury the remains of their loved ones. July 2009.

Kosovars celebrate the one-year anniversary of independence along Mother Theresa Street in the center of the capitol Pristina. February 2009.

Rakija production in the village of Trudelj, Serbia. November 2011.

A flooded Serbian Orthodox cemetery in Samac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. May 2014.

A drunk Serbian soldier during New Year's Eve celebrations in Belgrade. January 2011.

A boy from the Stara Gazela settlement plays while the Roma camp waits for government officials to arrive and sweep the camp in Belgrade. August 2009.

A portrait of Jesus hangs in a home in the Stara Gazela settlement of Belgrade. August 2009.

A woman in tears as her family and city workers rush to pack their belongings in to city trucks during the razing of the Belville camp in New Belgrade. April 2012.

Uros Popovic lights his cigarette from the embers of a Christmas Eve bonfire near Velika Hoca, Kosovo. January 2011.

A destroyed grave in a Serbian Orthodox cemetery in Albanian-controlled south Mitrovica, Kosovo. March 2011.

A fishing hut in central Belgrade at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, overlooking Great War Island. February 2010.