Stanko Abadzic: Form and Figure by David Best for Black & White Magazine

Posted on May 9, 2024

 The following piece was written by David Best for Black & White Magazine.

Stanko Abadzic: Form and Figure

“In the beginning,” says Croatian photographer Stanko Abadzic, “most photographers have a wide range of interests and subjects. Over time, this crystallizes as you focus on what interests you the  most, and discover where your strengths lie. For me, this has always  been street photography. However, recently I have also been exploring nudes.”  

Born in Vukovar in 1952, Abadzic at the age of 15 received a Russian camera, a Smena 8, from his father, which he cherishes to this day. With that camera he took his first photographs, and fell in love with the medium of photography, a passion that has only grown stronger over the years.  

“I am fascinated that I can capture a moment in time, as well as the transience of life,” he says. “It’s possible to experience it multiple times in the future when I revisit that  photograph.”  

Abadzic learned photography on his own, organically developing his signature style by  studying the compositions and motifs of great  photographers through monographs by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis and Fan Ho. He drew inspiration from great cinematography in classic films. And, during years living in Prague, developed a love for the time-less imagery of Czech photographers Josef Sudek, František Drtikol, Jaromir Funke and others. Over time, Abadzic consistently raised the bar for the quality he expected from his photography.  


Feet and Cello, 2005

“Strict self-criticism is a necessity when evaluating your own work,” he says. “That’s the only way you can grow as an artist.”

Abadzic refined his style while working as a  photojournalist, during which time he married  and began a family. But with the outbreak of Croatia’s war of independence in 1991, he was forced to flee his homeland, first to Germany for four years, before eventually settling in the Czech Republic. According to the biography on his website, Abadzic initially believed that the situation in Croatia would simmer down and allow him to return to Vukovar with his family, but it was not to be.

“I accepted any job I could find: shipping agent, waiter, teacher. The hardest thing was going to the immigration police every three months to extend our visas. Our motto was: think of today, only now exists. After four years, we had to leave; they did not want us to get any nearer to the five years required for German citizenship. Because of all that pressure, I was rarely able to take photographs.”

The years spent in Germany were clouded by economic frustration and creative dislocation. Being forced to leave, however, proved a blessing in disguise. Abadzic moved to Prague in August 1995, on a brilliantly sunny day that seemed to augur a positive change in his family’s fortunes. Feeling a spiritual and emotional  renewal, he took to the streets of “The Paris of Eastern Europe” with camera in hand, reconnecting with his artistic muse.  

“I slowly peeked behind the curtain, entered old backyards overgrown with ivy where time had stopped. I met people who remained original and authentic, people in no hurry, people who refused to take part in the  extremes of globalization. The more I unveiled Prague, the more I began to experience photography as an art form. The sensation was intense, like a volcanic eruption.”

Happening upon a Sudek exhibition in 2000, he realized it was possible to make a life and a living through his camera. Photography became the central focus of his life. It helped him find and keep a balance from the losses he had suffered as he began his new life.
Abadzic has always loved art, in all of its manifestations. But he learned as a young man that he could best express himself through photography, especially in monochrome. “Black and white protects me  from kitsch,” he explains. “Color is often seductive and can superficially influence the viewer. But in black and white I must ‘translate’ color into a grey scale which can express my vision in a much different way. That’s an additional component that attracts me. To extract a moment from the chaos of life, and make it eternal, is a great challenge. Obtaining a perfect composition, and rendering it in shades of grey, makes the photograph timeless.”
Much like his many photographic idols, Abadzic spends most of his time on the streets, looking for that unique mixture of light, composition and juxtaposition of elements that can add up to an unforgettable image. “I’m always looking for beauty and mystery,” he says. “Mystery attracts me,  because no answer can be easily found within the borders of the picture. I am happiest when my photography communicates with viewers and touches their emotional realm. It is especially gratifying when a photo of mine brings joy to collectors from distant continents. It means that I have captured something interesting and universal.”  

He most often shoots people, not so much in groups but as individuals. He likes showing the humane side of being human. As an antidote to the many wars which have destroyed or unrooted so many lives (including his own), he refuses to make images showing the darker side of life. He leaves that to other photographers. Instead, he seeks to show the beauty and aesthetics he finds in the world.

“To photograph means to be alone; to reach a mental state in which you assuredly and profoundly absorb impressions from the external world. I usually spend extended periods in the cities I photograph—Paris, Budapest, Odessa, Lisbon—aiming to achieve a fusion with the city and capture the rhythm of the life of its inhabitants. For example, Willy Ronis used to listen to Bach before stepping out into the hustle and bustle of the city. I try to photograph in a meditative state which I hope will capture the essence of the people and the city.”  

However, Abadzic finds it increasingly difficult to go unnoticed while taking photographs. In Paris, for example, he was shooting chairs and shadows in a park when a guard  approached him and asked if he was shooting commercially, pointing out that for commercial photography, even in a public park, one needed to have a permit. “I explained that I was shooting for personal reasons,” Abadzic says. “He remarked that my Pentax 545N wasn't exactly an amateur camera. When I showed him my passport, he reluctantly left me alone.”

In recent years, Abadzic has been concentrating on interpreting the female figure. “It’s very challenging to shoot nudes because there is always the question of how much to reveal and how much to cover. There’s always the risk of slipping into stereotypes. For nudes, I don’t use stylists or makeup artists. The women only put on as much makeup as they want or if they want. I try to celebrate the natural beauty of women, which I feel is somewhat forgotten in the modern world. Cosmetic companies impose their idea of beauty onto women. Unfortunately, it’s based solely with the intent to sell more of their so-called ‘beauty’ products.” 


Nude No. 15, Martinska Ves, Croatia, 2021

Abadzic loves finding a setting where the nude model is interacting with the locale in an interesting way. This can be in a natural setting, but more often involves him finding a location with interesting geometry and striking lighting. He loves to suggest a story that the viewer can elaborate upon, rather than making any kind of hard definitive statement with the camera.

Take for example the photograph with the butterfly shadow. Abadzic was walking through the city of Zagreb with his camera, and chanced upon a souvenir shop with a rather large butterfly displayed in front of the building. It was painted white and drying in the sun, casting a wonderful shadow on the wall. The idea for a photograph instantly occurred to him. He went in and asked if he could borrow the butterfly for a photography session; permission was readily granted. The resulting picture is the happy result of this chance encounter and the vision he saw in his mind’s  eye. The unforced serendipity of this experience underscores Abadzic’s visual and thematic approach.

“Many photographers today try to convey a message in an assertive way. I don’t have a message. I don’t question anything. I just take photos. If someone finds a message in my work, let it emerge from the photograph itself, not declaratively from something I’ve written or said.

I have the great privilege of not working in commercial photography. Therefore, I capture only what I want. I’m fortunate that my gallery representatives in America—Contemporary Works and Catherine Couturier Gallery—have recognized and appreciated my fine art photography. They sell my photographs, and have been financing my creative life for 20 years now.

Additionally, for the past ten years, I have been conducting photo workshops across Europe in such cities as Lisbon, Prague, Istanbul, Paris, Venice, Berlin and others. I want to leave a mark with my photographs, whether through exhibitions and books, or by influencing other photographers to realize their vision. I am fortunate that I have been able to live my life completely immersed in photography: to be free, independent and creative. To make an image that has any value, you must be entirely devoted to the cause. Photography is my life, and my life is photography.”  


Stanko Abadzic has exhibited prolifically in galleries and museums around the world. Many of the images in this feature are included in his latest book, Aktovi / Nudes (Kadar36,  2021). Among his many other books are Gradovi, Zagreb, Odessa, Istanbul and Adriatic Routes, also published by Kadar36.

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