Macedonian-Australian award-winning photographer Biljana Jurukovski is known for her portrayals of the diverse and beautiful expressions of different cultures. Her love, respect and passion for cultures and traditions has taken her across the globe and to remote places to learn about the cultures and traditions of indigenous people and to photograph them.
"Photography," says the 43-year-old who will be attending the Xposure International Photography Festival 2021 scheduled from Feb 10-13 in Sharjah, "is my journey – of my self-discovery, where fear has been defeated by curiosity, where I found beauty in places where most people will not find it possible to discover."
A self-taught photographer, she holds a Masters of Health Services Management and when not exploring cultures, works as executive manager in the Aged Care Industry in Australia.
Excerpts from an interview:
What inspired you to pursue photography?
Every story has a beginning, middle and a conclusion. Somewhere in the middle of my life journey from being a mother, wife, manager to becoming who I am today, I found myself, my passion, my love… I found photography.
From a young age, I used to dream about faraway places and life of the tribal people, however, this remained only a dream for many years.
2014 was my crucial year, a year where I took a leap out of my so-called "normal life". I was researching different tribes on the internet when I came across a book and saw the work of an extraordinary man, a photographer who later became my inspiration – the book was Before they pass away by Jimmy Nelson. I was completely blown away. I ordered the book and when I received it, I sat down for hours completely mesmerised, unable to stop wondering about the people that Jimmy was presenting in his book.
I remember I started asking myself so many questions, about the location of this people? Who they are? Why they are decorated with these horns? Why do they carry guns? What is with the white colour from chalk on their bodies... why, why, why…so many questions. Later I started finding the answers to my questions with my trips to the tribal and nomadic people of Ethiopia, Angola, Mongolia and other places.
It has been a [roller coaster] of a ride across a long, dusty road. But that is how I like it. Photography is my journey – of my self-discovery, where fear has been defeated by curiosity, where I found beauty in places where most people will not find it possible to discover.
How tough is it to stay true to the subject without influencing it with your sensibilities?
I try not to influence my subjects as I want to show them as who they are and how they are in their purest form. In some cases, especially with the collection Tribal Muses, I have intentionally photographed against a black backdrop, so the focus can be on their beauty and artistic skills.
The idea was that the focus of the viewer would be on the portrait itself with no other distractions whatsoever. The sense of individuality and creativity is very strong among the people and as a photographer, I felt that I need to share the story – of creativity and beauty, one that goes beyond the world of poverty and beyond the fear of the unknown places.
How would you describe your work?
I believe my work is a combination of passion, love and respect for people and their way of living. I try and capture the raw, real-life experiences that can’t be explained in words; the only way is through my photography.
Your pictures are conversation starters. What are some of the most interesting comments you have got for your work?
There are always interesting comments as well as questions. However, one of the comments I received was from Maggie Steber, the award-winning, world-renowned National Geographic photographer who said: "I couldn’t get this photograph out of my mind. I would look at it, walk away, and always return to it as something that I found mysterious, beautiful and very original. The photographer applied the idea of an avant garde approach to the world of the Surma tribe. It is intimate and beyond being something that I wanted to look at repeatedly and remain impressed and even moved, there was something magical about it, something otherworldly that we don’t often see or bother to see. I felt I entered a spirit world of ancestors. I also felt it was very respectful in recognising the beauty of people who are the closest to the earth and true to their traditions and their sense of themselves."
How easy or difficult is it for you to disconnect from what you are capturing?
I believe that one must stay connected especially when you are working with people. I try and capture their uniqueness that remains a mystery to the rest of world. I put aside every other issue that is going on in my life and focus purely on the subject, as when I am in this moment nothing else matters.
What is more important – composition or the moment?
I think that both are particularly important as the moment you choose dictates the light and composition. Especially with photographs of humans, the moment is profoundly important. Composing your photograph is an important part of the image making and also an extremely difficult thing to do.
Whereas many compositions such as music, painting, sculpture and design start from a blank canvas and compose through the art of inclusion, photography is the opposite as we as photographers start with the world as it is and practice the art of exclusion. Rather than adding elements to an empty canvas, we are taking them away from a very messy canvas.
True or false:
a) Sunrise and sunsets are overrated: false
b) Beauty does not lie in symmetry: true
c) Photographers are voyeurists: true
d) Fashion photographers have it easy: false
Xposure International Photography Festival from Feb 10 in Sharjah
Get ready to be exposed to a spectacular array of acclaimed photographers who will be sharing their thoughts at Sharjah’s Xposure International Photography Festival, the first-of-its-kind event in the region. A platform for acclaimed professional photographers from around the world, the festival is a premium forum where photography lovers can network, find out about latest developments and exchange expertise with their peers. Having developed a name for itself in the area of education and training in the visual arts, Xposure gets together award-winning photographers and film-makers from around the globe to share their work, experiences and knowledge. Xposure also offers fully or partially subsidised workshops for all levels.
Launched by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau in 2016, this year the event is on from Feb 10 to 13 at the Expo Centre in Sharjah.
More details at xposure.ae.