This article appeared originally on VICE Serbia.
Back in 2008, Serbian photographer Aleksandrija Ajdukovic started working on a series of photos of crime scenes, which she fittingly titled Crime Scene. When a few months down the line, Aleksandrija decided to exhibit the project, the public didn't react kindly – which isn't much of a surprise if you take into account that many of the photographs were selfies of a smiling Aleksandrija in front of human corpses covered in sheets and plastic bags.
I called her up to ask what exactly she was thinking.
VICE: How did you end up working at crime scenes?
Aleksandrija Ajdukovic: Reportage photography has always been my great love. But reportage photography is not what it used to be, especially when it comes to daily newspapers. As a photo-reporter you have a small level of autonomy – the photos you take are published in order to illustrate what journalists or editors want you to say. They rarely end up representing what you actually see on the field.
Additionally, reporting from crime scenes wouldn't have been my choice but, at dailies, the photographers who don't own amazing equipment are usually either asked to do crime or celebrities. As I am not interested in celebrities at all, I turned to crime.
How did Crime Scene come about?
Readers want to see blood and tears. The headlines next to crime scene photos usually include words like "fear"; "sadness"; or "disbelief". Then there is also what I like to call "death tourism" – taking photos next to certain objects or at locations where a death has occurred. So I thought I should try and insert myself to these scenes and see how people react to that.
The reason why you can seem me smiling in most of these shots, is because laughing in the face of death is a natural reaction. Many people tend to laugh and smile when they feel pain or discomfort – it's an automatic defence mechanism.
How did people react to that? Did they "get it"?
Most of my colleagues did. But after exhibiting the photos at Gallery 73 in Belgrade, it turned out that the general public did not. People would ask me: "How did you not feel ashamed, taking a photo next to a dead body?" They would tell me it didn't "suit me". The gallery also came under a lot of scrutiny. They called both the gallery director and me "amateur artists".
What did you want to achieve with that project?
I see the whole thing as documenting my performance in researching the anthropological aspect of the spectacle of death and accidents in modern society. In conventional conversations about the division of space in art performance – there is the audience space and the space reserved for the artists. This project blends the two.
Okay, thanks Aleksandrija.