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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photographer Profile ~ Vladimir 'Boogie' Milivojevich

Boogie was born Vladimir Milivojevich in Belgrade, the capital of what was then Yugoslavia. His friends gave him his nickname because he reminded them of a cartoon character called the Boogieman. He recalls the Belgrade of his childhood as a peaceful place, where crime rates were among the lowest in Europe and a strong sense of community prevailed.

This sense of stability changed drastically during the 1990s, he said, as Yugoslavia was upended and Belgrade transformed into a violent and poverty-ridden city. The situation was so drastic that Boogie remembers a period where his mother’s entire monthly pension could only buy two pounds of onions. Bleakness and hopelessness permeated the city. A few of his childhood friends succumbed to heroin addiction. People ended their own lives to avoid dying of starvation. Boogie walked around with homemade dog food to feed abandoned pets. To support his family, he traveled to Bulgaria to smuggle paint and sell it on the black market. (His father painted religious icons, so he knew which paints and colours were in demand.)

His father was also an amateur photographer. He gave Boogie his first camera. Boogie walked the streets day and night, recording the degradation of his city.

“All the moral values in our society somehow disappeared or got twisted during that time,” he said. “I realized much later that I probably started shooting to preserve my sanity, to distance myself from the chaos around me.”

He developed and nurtured a style. He was never influenced by other photographers’ work. He could barely afford film, let alone expensive photo books. He now sees this as an advantage. He was not tempted to emulate anyone else. Instead, he was able to focus solely on creating his own raw aesthetic, which grew organically from his connection to the streets.

In 1997, Boogie and his friends decided on a whim to apply for the United States green card lottery. He had never planned to leave Serbia but it turned out he was the only one of his friends to win. He left Serbia a week before the war in Kosovo began.

In America, he continued to photograph incessantly on the streets, now focusing on the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Queensbridge. His pictures of heroin addicts and gang members are poignant and shocking.

[via NewYorkTimes]

“If I left my house without my camera, my heart would probably start pounding and I would get all tense,” Boogie said. “That thought freaks me out. I wouldn’t be able to take it. Maybe it sounds cliché, but I really do feel like I am one with my camera. I like to compare it to martial arts, when you practice some moves so many times that — when you need to use them — you don’t think, you just react. Thinking is the enemy.” ~Boogie 

“The streets are larger than life, they are living and breathing,” he says. “Pictures are everywhere. They just come to you.”~ Boogie

“I don’t think my work is depressing — just real,” Boogie said. “My intention is never to provoke any specific reaction from the viewer. I can see how people think my work is dark, but I guess that is just a natural part of who I am. Maybe it is because I put my negative energy into my work. I don’t know. I just try to be honest and just observe.”~ Boogie

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One of the most haunting photos in his book is of a woman chopping up meat on a park bench. Boogie is not sure exactly what she was doing, but recalls that such incongruous moments were commonplace. “I spotted the woman near Kalemegdan, the medieval fortress, and started taking pictures, moving closer and closer,” Boogie said. “At one point, she turned towards me, holding the cleaver. I backed away pretty quickly. I have no idea what she was cutting.”

“One’s work will always depend on the state of mind one is in, and I think I’m doing pretty good in that department,” he says. “I have a two-year-old daughter now and I like being a dad. I’m growing organic tomatoes in my backyard, so I can’t complain. I do feel more inspired then ever. It wouldn’t surprise me if my work looked more positive, although I have no idea. I don’t really stop to analyze it much.”

Vladimir Milivojevich aka Boogie (5)

Vladimir Milivojevich aka Boogie (39)

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