That which I see, says I am blind / Da sem slep, pravi tisto, kar vidim

The distinction between looking and seeing is an often used and highly expressive oxymoron that can be traced as far back as the Bible. Ernesto Sabato, in his novel On Heroes and Tombs, included a chapter titled Report on the Blind, where he, through an allegory, explored the paranoid idea that the blind rule the world. The allegory talks about the fear of the unknown and the fear of not being able to flee from persecution and control, but it could also be taken much more literally. Could it be that the world really belongs to people who are faking blindness – looking and not wanting to see? The invisible is taking on new forms, born out of inability to cope, which can be attributed to a general ideology of covering one’s eyes in the face of the unpleasant, or simply to apathy. The invisible, however, materialises despite attempts at blindness, and through its slow growth creates an environment that, through subtle, but constant, harmful changes, becomes familiar, recognisable and masked to just the right degree for us to dare to occasionally face it and redefine it according to one’s own level of perception.

The problem of the superficial perception of the obvious is confronted by the photographers Bojan Golčar and Gregor Radonjič, with an exhibition that brings their individual work in the field of photography together into a single, rounded series of photographs. Both photographers work in the field of manipulated photography. While analogue photography has long offered techniques that allow interference with the original photograph, the development of technology has enabled a number of new approaches of manipulating visual material, turning photo manipulation software into a unique artistic tool that offers almost limitless creative possibilities. The original photograph serves as a base, but through the intervention of the original, it allows the artistic process to freely and subjectively alter individual parts in a way that will suit the conceptual outline of the artwork and evoke an emotional reaction. Despite the visibility and popularity of manipulated photography, especially in contemporary art, it is worth bearing in mind that every photograph is manipulated. The positioning of the camera, the placement of the subject and the search for the right light determine the final result, proving that in any case the camera is only a tool, different in from a brush or a chisel only in form, but not in its final purpose. For photographers, this kind of creation allows the free materialisation of a work of art in which the foundation is a good original photograph that with the help of the creative control of visual information, directs the viewer’s response through the artistic prioritisation of expressiveness and rhetorical effect. Manipulated photography, with its appearance, clearly announces that it has been shaped by imagination and the subconscious, and despite its apparent departure from reality, reveals the reality of human perception. It does not necessarily show the world as we see it, but as we experience it, or presents it in a way that, through the photographer’s intervention, evokes the desired reaction in the viewer. This allows for a layered messaging which reveals the subconscious perceptions of both the artist and the viewer. In relation to the title, it therefore displays images that are perceived by the photographer as important, but overlooked due to the social weight of the themes, which require the renunciation of individual ignorance and superficiality.

The photographs of Bojan Golčar and Gregor Radonjič focus on the natural environment, specifically on man’s relationship to it and their passive or active placement in it. The photographers are linked by their technique, their thematic orientations and their common message. The focus is put on the deeper understanding of our surroundings. Partly our environment is given to us and remains valued and untouched, providing essential components for survival, while also serving as a space for contemplation and retreat, and partly it is a product of our invasive interventions. Interventions in the name of unlimited progress are masked in socio-economic motives, which offer a comfortable degree of dissociation in understanding their consequences. The glamorisation of growth and the instant gratification of all modern man’s needs, leave the importance of the natural environment in the back of the human mind. Even when we are confronted with the extreme consequences of pollution and climate change, this does not necessarily have a significant impact on how we proceed to deal uncompromisingly with the reality of the situation. Nature is becoming one of the consumer goods for the elites, as seen in its dissection and sale, but also in the growing elitism of vacationing in unspoilt nature, which should serve as the basis of everyone’s life. Although the issue of the destructive effects of human activity on the environment requires taking a political stance and individual action, it should not be overlooked that the basis for positive change is first and foremost a changed outlook, which is fundamentally personal and, for the sake of survival on the planet, requires a connection and empathy with the source of human life, as well as with human beings themselves.

Photography itself requires the visual participation of the individual, while nature, as an inseparable part of the human being, activates all human senses and stimulates a response of the whole being, whether conscious or subconscious. A work of art is not, in its essence, enveloping – viewer perceives it knowing that it is separate from them and artificially created, but an artwork can rely on an all-enveloping effect through thoughtful design and execution. Manipulated photography departs from mimesis, its meaning is not found in the reflection of what is recorded, but in the (de)construction of the final image. In this process, which concerns both the artist and the viewer, prolonged perception and reflection are triggered, since we are confronted with images that, because of their appearance or their placement, are not immediately recognisable and categorizable, whereas this is what we would expect from classical photography. Antithetically, a photograph of nature and landscape, manipulated in one way or another, approaches the enveloping effect of nature itself to a greater extent than one made with classical approach, which only presents nature’s documentary or aesthetic value.

Bojan Golčar’s photographs are part of the series Elements of Nature in the Time of Climate Changes. His exhibited works focus on the elements of fire and water. Fire, a symbol of destruction and rebirth, is seen through the lens of forest fires, which are destroying the planet and polluting the air with increasing frequency as temperatures rise. Water, this time represented in a single photograph, represents the life force of the planet, but also speaks of rising sea levels, ocean acidification and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods. Two extremes are therefore visualised and perceived as opposites with similar destructive power. The basic elements, the building blocks of our habitat and the reason for our existence, are becoming incredibly dangerous and deadly when humans exploit the natural resources given to them and turn nature against themselves. The photographer’s work is guided by the motto “I am playing, but the situation is serious.” The statement connects the main aspects of the exhibited photographs: the creativity and experimentation of manipulated photography, and the social engagement realized by warning against danger. The photographs which focus on the element of fire, are created with an emphasis on vivid red hues and partly also include figuration. The human figure is presented as small and overpowered by the natural disaster. The photo of the block of flats bystander, shrouded in red light, was taken before the images of the Canadian fires became public, and in the light of current events, it gains an almost prophetic quality. It shows that the events the photographer is warning about are easily foreseeable and are already happening. The accordion player in the burning forest - transparently merged with nature, communicates man’s absurd and deliberate ignoring of pressing problems and focusing on easy and familiar activities that we consider as granted and eternal, while we are exposed to direct danger. The innocence of the girl in the white dress among the burnt tree stumps reminds us of the world we are leaving behind, of the helplessness of man when he allows harmful actions to go too far, to the point where salvation is no longer possible. The photograph of water acts as a calmer antipode to the burning photographs, but it is ominously combined with the photograph of the forest and takes it over as an alien element outside the context of the river, stream or lake. Despite the immediate association of water as a possibility for putting out the fire, the photograph does not diminish the message of the rest of the series, the rest of the series, but speaks of its potential to devastate a new part of the planet.

Most of Gregor Radonjič’s photographs come from the Metascapes series. As the title suggests, the photographer explores the representation of the metaphysical in landscapes, of that which is beyond the perceivable, but present in the subjective perception of spaces. The photographs aim to awaken the contemplative elements that a work of art can offer the viewer. Swedish cultural anthropologist Orvar Lofgren wrote that “landscape is less something in the world out there and far more in the eye of the beholder”. From this perspective, landscapes are spatiallybased perceptual units. They are constructed in the mind when we view the world by means of aesthetic categories that are socially mediated. (Roland Lippuner, Landscape in my Mind, Kunstforum Wien, 2015). At first glance, the photographs appear to be a direct representation of nature, but on closer inspection they acquire an element of something almost familiar. They function as direct representations of the photographer’s subjective perception, coloured by his own consciousness and interpretation of what he sees. The photographs hardly show direct interventions in the visual material, the digital manipulation is almost invisible and it is as if the photographer has reflected a part of his subconscious perception onto the environment and captured it after building it through his own psychological experience. The landscapes seem more realistic than documentary captures, because they are shown with a touch of human psychology, such as we perceive them, not as we see them. We are confronted with the successful materialisation of a desire to capture a moment in nature that overwhelms us, but which often fades away in the simple, un-manipulated snapshot of what we see. The slight manipulation of the photograph therefore allows for a greater degree of reality, if we perceive this reality as something happening inside the person, not outside them, and accept that all visual information is manipulated through the intention and focus of our psychologically biased gaze. This kind of presentation makes the photographs acquire elements of hyper-realistic paintings, which, despite its seemingly literal representation, show a reproduction of reality intertwined with the atmospheric nature of the artist’s intention. The photographs acquire a cinematic touch due to the deliberate staging, and thus an atmosphere that suggests a story embedded in the visual information. The story – in line with the artist’s aim of creating a space for contemplation – can be understood by each viewer in a completely personal way. The images are familiar enough to be taken as archetypal and, despite their metaphysical rearrangement, to be recognised as pieces of one’s own psyche and experience. They radiate a stillness and visualised silence of nature, which is presented not only as the foundation of man’s physical existence, but also as a possibility to meditate and look into one’s own depths.

The two series seamlessly connect to depict nature and its importance to human physical and psychological existence, while drawing attention to its transience and fragility in the face of harmful human interventions. Through two expressive languages, they create both louder and visually quieter aesthetic of the same initial motive. Throughout the exhibition, they enter into a harmonious dialogue and draw a clear storyline through their individual aesthetics - which allow for a layered representation of the coordinated yet nuanced desire to communicate through two expressive perspectives. By thoughtfully combining their work in the same creative field, they gradually reveal a message that at no point remains one-sided. Through the connected diversity of visual communication, they enable a vision that requires the renunciation of wilful blindness, and so the viewer is addressed with two languages unified in what is spoken.

Sara Nuša Golob Grabner