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Boogie - As It Is

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

Boogie
May 23, 2022

Serbian photographer Vladimir Milivojevich aka Boogie, is one of the most influential street photographers currently in operation. His visceral depictions of life in some of the world’s key urban centres have situated him as a leading figure in the no-holds-barred movement.

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Photography can be staged, it can be glamorous and it can be beautiful. The two former categories tend to be associated with the latter - beauty. That is beauty as we would conventionally think of it, something that is, largely, manufactured to look a certain way. Boogie’s greatest strength is that he subverts that process. The photographs are largely taken off-the-cuff. They’re raw. Still, they hold an immense beauty, one that speaks volumes about sociology, politics, religion and crime. About age, consumption and general culture. We get so much from, what at first viewing, could appear to be so little.


The apparent simplicity of the images underlines and undermines the complexity of what we’re seeing. Sometimes we have to put a bit of work in with photographs, deconstructing what we see before us and attaching our own understandings and interpretations. Boogie’s penchant for exposing the inherent filmic qualities of situations, in the mould of Gomorrah or City of God, imbues his work with the power of cinematic stills.

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Perhaps it is the iconic Mathieu Kassovitz film, La Haine, that we can see more accurate flickers of Boogie’s work. The monochromatic film, dealing with issues like race, police brutality and gang violence in Paris has many parallels to the photographer’s earliest works in his native Belgrade, as he turned his lens to capturing the unblemished incidents of violence and urban decay in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.


Right from the get-go, Boogie knew his aspirations were not to be a journalist. He wasn’t telling a story as much as he was just a guy with a camera, shooting life as he saw it unfold. The stories would tell themselves. His stark images, capturing stray dogs, homelessness and general social and political unrest were compounded by the washed out black and white style, underlining the melancholy and hopelessness experienced by citizens at the time.

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Drunk one evening, he applied for a US Green Card lottery and won. Before the millennium, Boogie arrived in New York, a peak time in the city’s own history, where hip-hop, graffiti and street culture were reaching their pre-internet crescendo. Luckily, the photographer was there with a camera in hand, documenting life in the US in much the same way he had in Serbia, capturing the raw symptoms of urban life.


By his own admission, the darkness that he had experienced in Belgrade became internalised. His own outlook was framed by his personal experiences there. Perhaps because of this perspective, his darkened outlook on the world, there was a relationship to be had with those who were fighting their own war against a society that they couldn’t understand, nor one that could understand them.

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Resultantly, Boogie captures photos with a rare insight, such a disarming honesty and access that one would be forgiven for thinking that he was hired as a PR agency for the city’s gangsters. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for his Eastern European sensibilities to resonate with an American audience, leading to the photographer shooting campaigns for brands like Adidas and Nike.


In the years since, having assimilated into the American way of life, Boogie hasn’t downed tools, nor blunted his blade, but has been perpetually seeking out new subjects in places like Istanbul and Sao Paulo - two examples of urban epicentres with their extensive competing and coalescing heritages and lifestyles. Boogie maintains his values too. He’s not a journalist, he just shoots what he sees. And what he sees is little parts of himself, of Belgrade, in people and places all around the world.


Through all of the differences,place, people, moments, the spirit stays the same.

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