DUBROVNIK…, the eternal story about the eternal City (1990- to the present day)

D.F. as he took photographs of Dubrovnik and its surroundings, produced this (first) exhibition in 1990, with the intention of taking it around Europe. From the very beginning, the idea of presenting Dubrovnik to the world, as the best known Croatian toponym and protected world heritage (UNESCO), was not understood in his homeland, and this did not change even later, when this valuable heritage was damaged in the war.

It was only due to an incredible coincidence that only one or two years before the beginning of the war in Dubrovnik region (1 October 1991) D.F. took detailed photographs of the city and it surroundings. Afterwards, during the war, at his own initiative and with great determination, he repeated the same pictures (in the same visual and technical manner) which thereby represent exceptionally clear and illustrative material about the (at that time unprecedented) systematic destruction of cultural heritage, which the author dubbed heritage cleansing (which has only become known worldwide in recent years in connection with the systematic destruction of monuments in the Middle East).

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT EXHIBITIONS: DUBROVNIK

1990 Dubrovnik, Sponza Palace / The first exhibition about Dubrovnik
1991 Dubrovnik, Rupe Ethnographic Museum, photographs of the surroundings / The same permanent collection to the present day
1992 Madrid, Centro cultural de la villa, Dubrovnik, patrimonio de la humanidad / The first Croatian exhibition after the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia
Arles, Espace van Gogh, XXIII Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie/ The first, and up until the present day still the only appearance of a Croatian photographer in an official competition at the most important European photography festival
1993 NeuUlm, Edwin Scharff Haus / The first integral exhibition on Dubrovnik… (surroundings, city, war)
Paris, ChapelleSaint-Louis de la Salpetriere / The first Croatian exhibition organised by the French Ministry of Culture
1994 Bucharest, Institute for Architecture / The first Croatian exhibition in Romania
Kišinjev, Visual Arts Museum / The first Croatian exhibition in Moldova
1999 Buenos Aires, Centro cultural Recoleta
Santiago (de Chile), Casas de lo Matta
2000 Prag, Terezianskekridlo, Pražskyhrad / sponsor of the exhibition Václav Havel
2016 RueilMalmaison (Paris), Médiathèque Jacques Baumel

 

BOOKS DUBROVNIK

1990 Dubrovnik, catalogue and poster for the exhibition in Sponza (with assistance from the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik)
1992 Dubrovnik, patrimonio de la humanidad, Centro cultural de la villa, The format of the book: 22x21cm, 140 pages, 50 black and white photographs of the city
1993 Dubrovnik…, FAB d.o.o., Zagreb, first edition (3 parts: landscape, city, war)
1997 Dubrovnik…, FAB d.o.o., Zagreb, second (supplemented) edition, also showing reconstruction after the destruction (with pairs of photographs, demolished – reconstructed) ISBN 953-6039-00-1

 

23 January 1992 – The first Croatian exhibition after the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia – Dubrovnik, patrimonio de la humanidad, Madrid

The exhibition Dubrovnik, patrimonio de la humanidad, held on 23 January 1992 in Centro cultural de la villa in Madrid, was the first Croatian exhibition after the official recognition of Croatia. It was held upon the initiative of and coordinated by Jagoda Lukavac and Tatjana Ribić. It was made possible by their friends from Madrid, Luis Caruncho and Adrián Piera. The foreword to the book with the same title was written by the Nobel prize winner for literature (1989) Camilo José Cela (1916-2002):

The main tool of photography is the human eye, that flicker of the most penetrating force which serves as the arbiter of the arts. The wisest judges – even those who were wrecked in the siege of Dubrovnik – believe that photography, and perhaps poetry, is the embodiment of chemically pure art, that art that grows from awareness and premonition. The content of man’s work determines the boundaries of the spirit. Only form, that perhaps ultimate delusion of utmost beauty, begets undiluted, aesthetic, naked freedom. Schiller was deadly accurate in his war cry when he commanded: Let form annihilate matter.

Art may not draw from the wellspring of reason, but rather pours forth stealthily from two imponderable lodes: chance – generously repeated, and beauty – that jives and dies without heeding time. In this record which Damir Fabijanić made in Dubrovnik, grapes and red earth, flax and whitewash, flowers and water and light, the very fibre of the landscape and buildings and men and women, cry out in pain to beseech the heavens with a song of pure and simple beauty.

If he were alive, the writer J.M. Eca de Queiroz would find a kindred spirit in Damir Fabijanić, a man who has traversed the border between our world and that other world that we now call simply – Dubrovnik.

Camilo José Cela, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1989  November 1992

 

July 1992 – XXIII Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Espace van Gogh, Arles

Damir Fabijanić was invited to the most significant festival of photography in the world with his exhibition of Dubrovnik that had been held in Madrid. It was held in the excellent premises of the Espace van Gogh, a former hospital and today a media library. Thanks to the initiative of Jacques Defert, the Director of the French Institute in Zagreb, and given the fact that the title of the program of the festival was Les Europeennes (Europeans), the additional (war) photographs of Dubrovnik by Fabijanić were presented.

D.F. is the only Croatian photographer to date who has participated in the official program of the festival of photography in Arles.

 

March 1993Dubrovnik… the first integral setting of the exhibition, Edvin Scharff Haus, Neu Ulm

With the encouragement and excellent support of Nenad Mihanović, and with help from many Croats (such as Nikola Pavlinek and Zlatan Međugorac) and Germans, the first integral (three part) exhibition entitled Dubrovnik… was held in the Edvin Scharff Haus in Ulm. In Zagreb a book with the same title was printed and published by the author, with financial assistance from the International Affairs Department of the French Ministry of Culture, and help from the French Institute in Zagreb.

The forewords in the book were written by Camilo José Cela (taken from the Madrid book), Karl Lehman and Radovan Ivančević.

The book was created with the tremendous and unselfish assistance of my designers and friends, Ante Rašić and Rašić Studios

 

September 1993Dubrovnik… the Exhibition of the Week in Paris

The exhibition Dubrovnik…, held in Chapelle Saint-Louis de la Salpetriere, Paris, was organised by the French Ministry of Culture (as the first Croatian exhibition they organised). The City Guide of Paris declared it the “exhibition of the week” (of 59 newly opened exhibitions). The book Dubrovnik… was listed in the most beautiful books of photographs in the world (28 books) by the independent Paris panel of the Paris publisher Marval (from among books by the best world photographers, such as Lewis Baltz, William Eggleston, Luigi Ghirri, Ernst Hass, John Heartfield, Mary Ellen Mark…).

 

March 2017Dubrovnik… Damir Fabijanić was awarded the HAZU award in the field of visual arts for 2016

At its 3rd (221st) session held on 29 March 2017, the Presidency of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences adopted a Decision to present the Award for the Highest Scientific and Artistic Achievements in the Republic of Croatia for 2016 in the field of visual arts. The award was presented for the exhibition “Dubrovnik….” held in September 2016 in Rueil Malmaison (Paris).

 

November 2018Dubrovnik… The third, updated edition of the book “Dubrovnik …”

 Book information: “Dubrovnik …” (3rd Edition, ISBN 978-953-59658-1-7)

Author of the concept and the photographs: Damir Fabijanić

Format: 24x24cm, hardcover

Content: 232 pages (147 color photos, 36 B&W photos, 2 geographic maps)

Texts: Camilo José Cela, Radovan Ivančević, Institute for Restorazion of Dubrovnik, author

Languages: Croatian / English

Book Price: 45 €

The book publisher is a family publishing house “Ice&pice” (also known as the publisher of  “Ice&pice” gourmet magazine, 3rd best gourmet magazine in the world, according to Gourmand Awards, Paris 2011).

 

RADOVAN IVANČEVIĆ: DAMIR FABIJANIĆ, A DUBROVNIK TRILOGY

 

LANDSCAPE

Does the cool allure of the lavender purple make the gold glow of the Spanish broom stronger? Does the tangible volume of an ordinary hearth with a chimney in Popovići – monumental like a tower or a church spire – appear even more suggestive because it is contrasted to the space defined by the walls, outer staircase and the vault in Doli on Šipan (creating a relationship between a positive and a negative)?  Is the serrated line of the horizon as traced by the deep green verticals of cypress trees emphasized by the horizontal stretches of fiery red earth? The coarsely built stone huts may appear even more rugged when compared to the elegant, finely-worked church apse, and all the more so because they are both cylindrical in shape.

Using an inventive composition. Fabijanić gives us a new view of things already seen. The layout of two photographs side by side that constitute an inseparable visual whole on two pages of the book is not merely an artistic device, but rather Fabijanić’s creative principle, an expression of his way of seeing and of thinking. He pairs images according to their similarity or contrast to interpret specific visual qualities of natural and manmade things. With their interplay of colours and shapes, some of Fabijanić’s projects, highly sensitive and cultivated, are simply classics of landscape and architecture photography.

Besides typically Mediterranean features, the landscape of Dubrovnik has some characteristics very much its own. Rather than unmarred nature, what is fascinating are the minimalist touches added by the human hand that enhance the natural harmony: hoeing the soil and working the land, man has only uncovered its glowing red insides and matched it to the complementary green of vegetation; building terraced gardens, he has introduced a new play of parallel planes set against the natural relief in a broken line; encircling his fields with stone walls, he has installed a geometrical order, rhythmically dividing the endless vistas and flowing forms into segments.

The most complex and most wonderful product of man’s creative work and centuries-long tradition in the Dubrovnik region are the peasant houses, farm buildings and tools for working the land. The best examples are the houses in Mrčevo. A few steps carved into a living rock and completed by monolithic stone slabs lead to a building made of broken stones and coarsely trimmed square blocks with smoothly dressed stone door and window frames. The building traces various periods in the thousands of years that stone has been used as building material in the Mediterranean: the stairs recall the prehistoric Neolithic age, the megaliths come from protohistoric Cyclopean construction, walls from the Medieval and the frames from the Renaissance tradition. The most impressive thing is the harmony of building and soil, its organic growth from the living rock as if it has gradually unfurled like a plant slowly growing from the root. The building is made complete by nature: man only sets the framework and nature builds anew every year in summertime growing a thick roof of vine leaves to protect it from the heat and in autumn removing it so that the winter sun can warm the walls…

Made of primary materials, stone and wood, and with the primitive technology of the pre-industrial era powered by muscles, even an ordinary mill or an olive press testifies to the dignity of man’s work and the abundance of gifts given by the soil.

A symbol of faith in nature, a posy of ivy “against the evil eye” on the door of a stable in Konavle  or an olive branch on the vine stock in a vineyard tell of man’s togetherness with and respect for natural forces he knows and those he may not yet know.

From the beginning, man has worked within his environment to build for his needs and his work survives within the landscape as an enduring monument of its time, a course leading from untouched nature to the world from which nature is excluded. In conquering space, man has used and changed nature, improved it or destroyed it, but now a balance between man’s activity and the environment has become an existential question: no longer a problem of coexistence with nature, but that of existence. Aware of these concerns, the contemporary man looks at the world differently. Damir Fabijanić’s photographic monograph offers us a view of man’s creative cooperation with the environment and also of destruction wrought by man.

 

CITY

The photographic record of the present reality of Croatia’s most famous city, almost a legend was made over several years and is divided into three parts: the city of Dubrovnik (1989) – the landscape of the Dubrovnik region (1990) – and their shared fate in the tragic revision of the City and the territory of the former Republic of Ragusa after the Serbian and Montenegrian devastation in 1991-1992.

The cycle of photographs of the City reflects Fabijanić’s fascination with the harmony and beauty of everything in Dubrovnik, although what initially set him to work was the commission from the Dubrovnik Restoration Board (founded in 1979 after the earthquake) to photograph the architectural monuments restored in the past decade and those under reconstruction. The series of photographs from the surroundings of Dubrovnik was also a result of a professional assignment: the Rupe Granary Musem engaged Fabijanić to photograph the landscape, folk architecture and customs in the Dubrovnik region as documentary material for an ethnographic collection. Crossing over two thousand kilometers on several trips from spring to late autumn, the photographer visited various sites and took pictures. Neither his employers nor the photographer himself could have imagined that in less than a year these photographs would be the last document of the ancient Croatian civilization in the Dubrovnik region, a civilization that has now been destroyed. The third part of the book is devoted to the fate of this harmonious coexistence of man and nature which was almost wiped from the earth, depriving the world of an opportunity to learn and profit from it…

The arrangement of photographs in the book does not adhere to the actual chronology. The photographer decided to place the cycle of photographs of the City in the middle, connecting the photographs of idyllic landscapes and the deeply moving scenes of destruction.

The sequence of the City is in black and white. In this way, form is emphasized and expresses its power without the aid of colour. Fabijanić takes details and blows them up, alienating them from reality and making them independent in the aesthetic structure. From his viewpoint, things are seen as part of the visual art world rather than the real world.

The surfaces of walls stretch or bend in full clarity, break at sharp angles, heave in thick layers of sculptural decoration or illustrate the play of light and shade. Even in the poorly made back facades 82 the author discovers visual qualities. Details of the relief spring into life on large walls and elsewhere the walls break out open and turn into arcades. The volumes of buildings and the space of streets and stairways are swallowed up by the perspective. The essential difference between the Renaissance and the Baroque becomes obvious in a comparison of the Renaissance groin vault in the city Granary (Rupe Museum)  and the Baroque dome of the Cathedral, as seen from below.

The absence of man in Fabijanić’s photographs is not a sign of misanthropy: the pictures of the city are a subjective experience the photographer is sharing with us. The City is revealed as a beauty of its sum and the sum of its beauties.

The order of sequences in Fabijanić’s trilogy follows the scheme of prologue, theme and epilogue.

In the beginning there was landscape. Although aware of that, when looking at Fabijanić’s photographs, it is hard to imagine what the land originally looked like because it has been shaped by human spirit and human will and cultivated by human hand over the centuries. Cypresses, olive trees and vine stocks, Spanish broom, sage and lavender have all been planted and cultivated (in the original sense of the Latin word).

And then, a millennium and a half ago, the City was founded in the midst of sparse nature and has been growing ever since. Not only inside the walls; Dubrovnik has always penetrated into its environment, changing the land with agriculture and horticulture, architecture and planned settlements all the way to the furthermost borders of the free Dubrovnik Republic.

Fabijanić’s method provides an intrinsic unity to the photographs: regardless of various themes and meanings, or degrees of emotional involvement, his photographs are marked by terse forms and powerful symbols. Always square in format, his works search for the enduring in the transient, for meaning in form, by focusing on minimalist motifs: the smallest possible size offered by reality and yet large enough to express the essential. The relationship between quantity and quality in Fabijanić’s most classical works may serve as an object lesson in philosophy, to explain Zeno’s paradox on the grain and the crowd. How many stone tiles, how large a surface of the roof must be encompassed so that we could see each one separately and yet be able to see the roof, the whole? How many rows and bundles of thatch are the minimum so that we could discern a root and still see each single straw?

Set in pairs, Fabijanić’s photographs are complementary in meaning and forceful in expression. The pair of photographs of the Franciscan cloister before and after the war is symbolic of his ability to use symbols. Taken from the same distance and the same angle, identical in the frame, the two photographs show the same detail of the cloister – with three arches of Romanesque hexaphoras – in time of peace and in the aftermath of war. Although the changes are minor and hardly noticeable, they nevertheless poignantly express the spirit of the two periods. In peacetime: intensely green leaves and golden oranges glow with sunshine, zest and life. In wartime: in front of the wall pockmarked and damaged by the shelling now stands a monochrome brown outline of bare branches. This example leads us into the third sequence.

 

WAR

How can photography voice the anguish of people who for ten years have been laboriously repairing their city, heavily damaged in the 1979 earthquake, only to see it in ruins again just when their work was almost done? How can one show the life of the citizens of Dubrovnik and the thousands of refugees who fled their devastated villages to seek shelter in the City: the ceaseless shelling and a year-long siege from land and the sea, without water, electricity and food, a hell they all went through? How can one express human tragedy that is far from over?

Fabijanić does not include people in his photographs, prefering to let things speak indirectly of man’s fate. He does not strive for expressiveness in either composition, lighting or form. In his serene and classical compositions, he attempts to capture both the past beauty of creation and present ugliness of destruction: jagged edges that used to be straight, Medieval spires blown apart, disfigured Renaissance stone wall closets, hanging railings of Rococo balconies without stone platforms, tiles stripped from the roofs of old churches, empty sockets instead of windows that used to be the eyes of the house (or the symbolic picture of the “Croatian cross”), the broken basin of a public fountain, horrible emptiness inside the former palaces, caved in and burnt to the ground…

The series of photographs of Baroque shops from Dubrovnik’s main street/square – Placa (Stradun) is suggestive: a simple, tradition honoured design in which an arch links the entrance and the shopwindow – a characteristic motif in the city centre – is cluttered by a strange assortment of boards, planks and panels which were meant to protect the people and goods. The photographer invites us to contemplate this scene, and after awhile the iconography of these pitiful attempts at protection reveals the anguish, suffering, fear and despair of the unarmed citizens of this proud city with a thousand-year cultural tradition who tried in vain to defend themselves from the shells fired by crazed mountain bandits.

Fabijanić often resorts to comparison, both when showing beauty and harmony and when showing destruction. The pairing of peacetime and wartime photographs of village houses in the agricultural inland area of Dubrovnik, Konavle and Ćilipi, are deeply moving. The rich and varied furnishing of the interiors indicates a level of tradition and culture of living almost unexpected outside urban centres: furniture with Baroque and 19th century elements, fittings from various periods and the faces of upright and industrious tenants who look at us from wedding photographs on the wall. It is on these photographs that one feels, though indirectly, the presence of people, to be seen nowhere else in Fabijanić’s work. This presence is most intensely felt here, because all things appear to have been used but a moment ago. still warm from the human touch.

Much of Dubrovnik will probably be restored, but the question is whether it will be possible to revive the continuity of family life and centuries-long tradition of rural customs in the inland area, that spirit of simple dignity that speaks of moral strength. Memories that pour forth from the peacetime photographs of Konavle and Ćilipi, once destroyed, are probably lost forever because a modern spirit is bound to prevail in reconstruction. New settlements will be raised, identical to all others, any others. Their original unique quality will be replaced by something that is mass-produced and without individuality.

Fabijanić’s photographs are a testimony to the once beautiful landscape, the might of the City, the variety and richness of village life in the region; they are also a valuable document. For many years to come, for many decades perhaps – until restoration replaces destruction and new life takes hold – Fabijanić’s photographs will be one of the most powerful means of fighting the frailty of human memory and serve as a genuine expression of the high level of culture in Dubrovnik and its surroundings.

Radovan Ivančević, University of Zagreb, February 1993

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