Capturing Bodies in Black & White

By William Henry Crisp

William sits down with analogue photographer Zvezdan Reljic to talk about his way of capturing the raw female figure.

 

As I broke the crust of the freshly brewed coffee, I waited and observed his collection of books and mismatched furniture decorated with the occasional analogue camera. “Do you smoke?”, asked Zvezdan Reljic. I replied, “No.” You know, impressions grow on you by the minute, overriding your thoughts and emotions. “Oh shit, I need to take out the rubbish!” and he rushed off. Well, let’s say he’s the typical creative; quirky, odd and artistic. A tall and scruffy white male with a distinct Eastern European accent – I sensed his cluelessness and innocence, almost as if he didn’t know how great his work is.

 

I was walking around Sliema, trying to find his flat and office space. Let’s just say that it was nowhere near that stereotypically luxurious New York or Los Angeles creative studio, hinting at his humble beginnings. The smell of film created an aura in my mind, infiltrating my creativity. Akin to that film and the satisfaction of the twists and turns involved in developing film, I was eager to explore his life in the following few hours. Behind the camera is an eye, a thought and a perspective that is unique to that of the beholder.

 

In layman’s terms, 35mm film is a metal canister, filled with glimpses of joy and experiences in visual form. With a limited knowledge of the 35mm analogue film world, nude photography is seen as some sort of pornographic sexual image, which is there for the promiscuous to enjoy the experience. ‘Nudity’, which is derived from the Latin word ‘Nudus’, denotes something in a bare form; thus it implies only the removal of a cover or mask.

 

Originally a street photographer, Mr Reljic never thought that he would end up shooting the human body. Through his portraits and nude photography, he aims at displaying a dateless and cultureless image for the human eye to admire. As his subjects strip down, one button at a time to their bare skin, his timeless photography doesn’t seek perfection but seeks to capture the relatability of the imperfect bodies and their soft lines. Nudity is not explicit, we’ve made it explicit. “We are all the same, man and woman”, he says, as he defends his beautiful black and white images from society’s harsh critique. “I grew up in a different culture, you see,” said Reljic, as he described his childhood stories of skinny dipping in icy lakes and rivers in his Czechoslovak life. Mostly raised by a female figure in his youth and being naked around family members, nudity was deemed normal in Czechoslovakia.

 

Cigarette after cigarette, puff after puff, he described that his eye for photography came about during his teenage years. Always yearning for the camera, and a graduate of the Graphic Art school in Belgrade, Zvezdan continuously sought the camera as a mode of expression and exploration of his third perspective. Moving to Malta, his work in advertising and the magazine world, and the start of his own publishing venture has led to a movement in his work; the bare female figure. As a young father at twenty, his passion for the art of photography flourished. Starting off as a street photographer in Belgrade, his curiosity about the human element drove him to success.

 

His work mainly deals with the female figure, which he explains is conceived by his deeper knowledge of the female body – having been mostly brought up by strong women. Through his imagery, far from trying to achieve perfection, he aims at displaying the lines and curvatures of the human body which enable an appreciation of nature’s natural, raw element. Furthermore, his photographic endeavour also aims at showcasing a genderless body, never displaying the so-called “feminine features”. He has also delved into male nude photography. However, he felt that his perception of the male body was an extension of his portrayal of the female, and thus focused solely on the feminine form.

 

I was curious to explore how he gets young women to strip for the camera. He exclaimed that most are his friends, who pose for free. In fact, he pointed out that his colleagues are continuously jealous of the fact that he doesn’t pay his models. When dealing with the Maltese context, he feels like people think he is “breaking a taboo”; however, he disagrees. One prominent incident that he brought up was when he was commissioned to produce a work for a breast cancer awareness campaign. He provided an image which was to be auctioned, where the female’s breasts were showing. They later embraced the work despite it being perceived as controversial by the local eye. “What we shoot is our attempt at trying to catch a feeling, we shoot with our curiosity,” concluded Reljic.

 

body

Photographed and hand printed by Zvezdanreljic.

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