This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia
Over the last 25 years, Serbian photographer Srđan Veljović has been documenting the social changes that have taken place in Serbia. Whether for the summers in the socialist-built housing blocks in the New Belgrade district, to mourn over the victims the massacre in Srebrenica or the heyday of Serbian rap group Sunshine – Srđan was there, and his camera was too.
His new exhibition – 1990s – focuses on works he created during the rule of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević. It's a look at life in the army and outside it in the years between Milošević's rise to power in 1987 and his ousting in 2000. I spoke with Srđan ahead of his exhibition in the ARTGET Gallery in Belgrade, about the photos he thinks best represent this Serbian decade, a decade that started with war and ended with war.
VICE: The black and white photos from the end of the 1980s – where did you take them and how do you think they represent 1990s Serbia?
Srđan Veljović: They were taken during my obligatory stint in the Yugoslav army in 1987 and 1988. I was stationed in the Divulje barracks on the Adriatic coast – which is now in Croatia. At first glance, they might not seem connected to photos I took in the 90s, but they strongly show what preceded that decade of war. They show the spot from where we all jumped straight into the 1990s, they show what was lost. There's a photo I have of two soldiers, friends of mine, who I asked to kiss each other in front of my camera, just for fun. Everything was so innocent.
If you look at those scenes now, how do you feel about them, knowing what happened after?
When I took the photos, I didn't think of what they would mean one day and they didn't have that meaning yet. My exhibition shows two views on army life – the pre-war times in the military in 1987 and 1988, and during the NATO bombings in Serbia in 1999. And then there's a third section, made up of photos that show social and political life between those two frameworks.
What was social life in Serbia like during the 1990s?
The photos I have of those times show scenes from Belgrade techno-rave club Industrija, from turbo-folk parties on riverboats and folk dances in Belgrade park Kalemegdan. I think they show all these things people were trying to do in order to get on with their life, but it's all symbolic because no one was actually able to get on with anything because of the war.
Where did you celebrate the end of the NATO bombings?
I was mobilised, so I took part in it. We were stationed in Srem, some 13 miles from Belgrade. I think the first pictures from the military in 1987 and 1988 are almost pure. You see that there's no danger, the scenes are almost romantic. The ones from 1999 are grimier, you see that time has passed and the years have not been kind.
When we heard the bombings were over, we had a party in a shitty bar in Srem. At that messy party, I took another picture that had soldiers grinding on each other. I staged the one of soldiers kissing in 1988, but this moment 11 years later was a totally spontaneous scene. So much had changed.
Thank you, Srđan!