“Photographs are a lot like people,” says Klavdij Sluban, a world-renowned French art photographer of Slovenian descent, at his exhibition in the gallery Poul La petite noire. His presented cycle ‘Around the Black Sea’ is anything but an attractive display of places and people that we see in tourism catalogues or reports about far away places.
On the black-and-white film, blackness with pale outlines of cities, landscapes and people are captured. The world is sometimes seen through a window with black paint strips flaking off. It is a moving world, stretched out, shivering, trembling, urgently seized by a stowaway hanging onto the train door. Boats are docked, rusting and falling apart. In a waiting room, a lonely man is sleeping, forgotten, holding his head. It is a silent universe of an image poet. “I do not illustrate life, I give it its own form. I express myself through photography,” says Sluban. He’s a dedicated black and white analogue photographer. His answer to the question, why he never uses a colour film, is very simple: “Because color is not gray. I’m interested in the gray shade. Life is not just black and white.”
The fifty pictures on display were brought back from Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria. They belong to prestigious institutional collections; they were displayed at the Pompidou Centre and the Maison européenne de la photographie and now for the first time in a gallery.
Sluban takes pictures only on his travels, which he only does a couple times a year. “When I travel, I do not think much, I do not understand much, I just experience. I try to catch specific moments, which never happen again. Therefore I have to be fully present, which is not easy,” he explains. When asked what such a trip looks like, he replies: “Terrible!” It’s not a typical touristic trip, nothing is booked in advance and he always travels alone. “Otherwise it’s not possible. When I travel I’m open, I’m like a sponge that absorbs everything. I become a part of the environment, I adjust to situations, I’m fluid and flexible. If someone travels with you, this is not possible anymore,« he explains, adding: »If you want to spoil the trip, travel with your wife or husband.”
The difficult process of selecting images
He has no specific methods of choosing the motives of his travels. “A trip is like a return to the childhood, everything I see, is interesting to me.” Although ‘terrible’, the journey is the easier part of the whole process of creating a cycle. “When I come back, the cruel part starts – the selection and the understanding of what I saw and what I understood.” He spends long nights selecting photos or he even leaves them untuched for a whole year, without having a single look at them. “Photographs are like people. Some are attractive at the first glance, you think you could spend a life with them, but then they disappoint you very fast. Images are also not always as deep as they seem at first. Important are those which are ‘growing’ slowly.” Therefore, he sometimes needs a few years to notice that a particular photo is the very centre in a cycle.
Pictures as an invitation
His photos tell very little at a first glance. Time is needed to realize that “there can be something”. Sluban believes that the photography begins, where the anecdote ends. “I’m not for [including] an anecdote in photography. Photography is something visual. I always take pictures of people who I do not know. Someone with whom I spoke just a five seconds, I cannot photograph anymore. My motives must be a blank page.” Therefore, his photos have no names. Only the place and the year is stated. “My photos are an invitation to create your own story,” he explains.
The last but not least interesting thing about him is the fact that in Paris you won’t see Sluban with a camera, but with a book. When he’s not taking pictures, he’s observing people in the metro or else he’s reading.