We caught up with street photographer Boogie while he was in Belgrade, resting from a period of work-related travelling and editing his upcoming book about Moscow.
by Luisa Grigoletto
Hi Boogie, thank you so much for making time to talk to us while on vacation. We’re honored! Let’s start with something nice and “easy”: what is photography for you?
I live photography. I don’t even think about what it is. It’s my life, it’s a huge part of my life and I can say that I live it fully. Even when I’m not shooting, it’s somehow present: you’re either composing the subject in your head or you’re thinking about it in one way or another. But it’s a huge chunk of my life. Even when I’m not physically doing it, it’s there.
Your images tend to be very raw and powerful, both when documenting street culture all over the world, but also when you do more corporate assignments. Tell us a bit about how you approach your own projects: the process you go through, how you conceive a new idea, how your carry it out, and where inspiration comes from.
It’s always pretty random: with my personal projects, I just go with the flow. You can’t really plan it. For example, gangs and stuff like that, you can’t really go “Oh, I’m gonna take photos of gangs”. Those things don’t work like that, you know? You just need to recognize the opportunity and just grab it. Or like chances in life: they don’t come that often, but you need to recognize them and just jump on them. I think that’s the whole point.
So, before going to a city or country, you don’t prepare by studying a specific neighborhood, or aspect of the city…
No, I don’t really study – I usually don’t even know where I am on the map! Seriously! The thing is: you need to know someone local when you go to certain places. I mean, you don’t need to know someone local when you go to places such as Rome, or Trieste, or “normal” cities. But if you go to some rough cities, like Kingston or São Paulo, it’s good to know someone local who can show you around.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more – that’s when you get to experience the city at its best.
You know, you can spend days and days in a city and not see anything. And then, if you know the right person, in a day you can see more than you would have in a month alone.
Have you had any negative experiences in the cities you visited that ended up pushing you forward?
No, no negative experiences. I think you just need to listen to your gut instinct. You need to trust it. And when you feel that something is not right, and that something is not ok, you just need to run. You know, you just go.
You work both with digital and film cameras. What do you like and dislike about each one?
Look, nothing beats film: it’s a really traditional, old-school method, and you’re limited in terms of the numbers of shots. Each roll has 36 frames: that’s a limitation. But then, you think about every frame more, you’ll pay more attention and every frame will be more special. While with digital, it’s all unlimited, you just shoot. In fact, you shoot like crazy. But then, when it comes to editing, if you shot digital, you realize you shot three times more than had you been shooting film. And you need to go through all those images and look at them. It all has its pros and cons.
Is there one you prefer over the other, or does it depend on the project and circumstances?
Nowadays I shoot more digital. It’s easier going to foreign countries, it’s easier going through customs, through security checks. I remember back in the days, and even now, whenever I shoot film and I carry all those x-ray bags to protect film, it’s always questions: what is this? Can you open it? With digital, you pretty much avoid all of that.
You’ve published quite extensively: A Wah Do Dem was the first book in color; but you also experimented with the wet plate collodion process. What determines these aesthetic choices?
Also here, things happen by chance, step by step, until I reach a certain level of expertise in the wet plate collodion technique, but I do it regularly. It’s amazing. Once you do a project using that technology, nothing beats it: it has a tridimensional quality that’s just amazing. The whole process is a pain in the ass: the camera is heavy, it’s like a piece of furniture, and then to set it up it take some time, and it’s very toxic, but once you see the result, if it’s goo, it’s really, really good. It makes the whole thing worth it. I love it.
It sounds like you also enjoy the “dirty” part of the work, playing with chemicals…
I enjoy the randomness of the process, I enjoy not being in control. I’m not an expert of it and I’ll never be and I don’t plan to be own. And I love the randomness, and I do the processing in my dirty dusty basement, so there’s a lot of elements involved, and I never know what I’m gonna get. I always get surprised, and that’s what I love about it.
You are now based between New York and Belgrade (Serbia), where you were born and raised. What is your first memory related to photography? Why did you pick up photography?
My dad was an amateur photographer, and my grandfather as well. So growing up there were all sorts of cameras around. I was never into it, really, until the economic crisis and the wars in my country. When shit hit the fan in my country, that’s when I started being into photography, when things in my country turned dark – that’s when I started shooting.
So as a way of documenting what was happening around you?
Well, to document, and maybe also to escape: when you’re behind the camera you don’t participate, you’re more of an observer. You feel like you’re not part of what’s going on, and that can help you preserve your sanity, I think.
It’s a filter, between you and reality…
Definitely, yeah – so that’s why I started shooting. To kind of save myself from what was going on around me. And then it stuck with me…I’m stubborn, I never quit!
Where does your fascination with street culture come from?
It’s kind of logical: I grew up in the streets, playing outside. In Belgrade, growing up, all kids were playing football in front of the house or riding bicycles, so streets is where I feel very comfortable – I’m a city kid.
What’s the craziest place you’ve ever been to and why?
I think it’s Kingston: I think Kingston is just so aggressive and weird. For instance, there is no such thing as a tourist area, there’s no such a thing as an area, or even one street, where you can go and feel safe, and be like “Oh yeah, I’m gonna walk around this area, I’ll be fine” – no. You can go to the shopping mall and hang out there and be safe, but the moment you leave, it’s tricky.
Are you going back anytime soon?
I love it, I was there three, four times…I love the city, it’s so crazy that you cannot not like it. But at the same time it’s so aggressive and weird: it’s your typical love/hate relationship.
How do you use social media, and namely Instagram?
I had kind of a late start with Instagram, but I got addicted, fairly fast. I’m on Instagram all the time. I wish I could shut it down from time to time, but I’m on it, always.
What do you like about it?
I don’t know, it’s just an addiction. You can’t say it’s not important. It’s important for work: if you’re a photographer it’s a great PR tool, but I think we kind of overestimate it, if it brings work or not.
What’s your relationship with your archive? Throughout the years, you must have amassed a huge amount of photos…
Oh man…it’s chaos. I’m not good at it. I’m not good at keeping track of my stuff, and archiving it. It’s just a mess. Whenever I need to find some specific image it’s like: “oh man, shit! Where is it? Which drive?” And half of my negatives are in New York, one part is here in Belgrade, so it’s really hard to find any specific image. But you know how it works – at the beginning, you feel like you know where your stuff is, where every image is, and you name it in a certain weird way, and you feel like you know every important image’s name. But then, at some point, everything goes to shit, and you’re like: “Oh my god, I don’t know anything anymore!”. So, I passed that point a long time ago.
And how do you feel about the editing process?
It’s pretty hard, you know. I have my ninth book coming out in November, about Moscow, so I’m kind of used to it. Like with everything else, [by now] you know what works, what doesn’t work. The book needs to have a certain flow, it can’t be boring. I’d say I’m pretty good at editing. I can’t really say I enjoy it – it’s not easy. And I still do it old school: I make small prints and scatter them around the room, I lay them on the floor, and I start from there. I do pairs first, and then sequences. I try to do it the old school way.
What new projects are you currently working on? Where are you going to go next?
I was pretty busy with editing and proofing for this book, but that’s pretty much done now. I’ll be busy with promoting it but right now I’m just enjoying my vacation with the kids. I traveled a bit for work recently, but I’m getting ready to go to Italy in August and rest!