An Aesthetic Puzzle Solver

photographer Stanko Herceg
written by Vanja Babić

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Stanko Herceg is a photographer who approaches photography in an extremely curious way. His works typically result from his thinking about the formal and technological characteristics of the medium itself, but never from the position of an omnipotent author who has absolute control. Indeed, he always insists on certain authorial restrictions, which will then – in a truly strange way – give him the motivation for his very original creative ideas. What is this exactly about? Stanko starts from the undeniable fact that photography is a particular art, created in a fraction of a second. Preparatory work such as the choice of themes, frames or exposures may, and often must, be lengthy and carefully prepared, but the final form of the photograph is always the matter of a single moment. But this moment will result in an unimaginable number of unforeseeable situations! For example, a gust of wind, the flight of a bird or insect, or an unconscious tic or blink of the photographed person – these are just drops in the sea of different sudden phenomena that the photographer cannot possibly control. Moreover, there is the problem of perception. Even though the picture framed by the camera will be exactly the same as the photographer’s field of vision at the moment when the photograph is made, these are actually two essentially different realities. In fact, man notices only what he has already became aware of, and that is how a photographer chooses the priorities that he will use to build his artistic vision. A lens, on the other hand, is coldly objective; it ‘notices’ literally everything. All of the above leads to the logical conclusion: photographs always necessarily include details that the author could not consider at the moment of shooting. Some of them are the consequence of sudden and unexpected phenomena, while others exist continuously, ‘from the start’, within the scene that the photographer decided to shoot. In both cases, the photographer becomes aware of them only a posteriori, when his work is already completed. It happened to the main character in Blow Up, the legendary film made by the famous Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966. In the film, a photographer shoots a banal scene of two lovers in a park, but he accidentally also ‘shoots’ a murder in cold blood that happened in the background. He becomes aware of this fact only after he carefully examines and enlarges the photograph. Stanko Herceg is by no means the only photographer influenced by that masterpiece, but in his case, it was a kind of fatal fascination. From the moment he first saw Blow Up, Stanko has become permanently attached to it and has always returned to it, in an exceptionally inspired and artistically potent way, even calling his last exhibition ‘Blow Up’. It shows the photographs of his friends and acquaintances – in other words, very real people – but greatly magnified. The photographs vary: black-and-white and colour, nudes and clothed people, extreme close-ups and full figures, neutral backgrounds and recognizable or defined ones. They are all connected, however, by the use of enlargement to discover something that was initially beyond awareness and thus non-existing. A reflection in the eye of the photographed person? A wrinkle or a mole on the person’s face or body? Something strange on the wall in the background? Maybe a scene at the end of the street? The possibilities are endless, one just needs a suspicion. And Stanko Herceg always suspects, just like the main character from Antonioni’s film. He is a sceptical photographer, who clearly sees the act of photographing as a puzzle, or even a philosophical problem.


This philosophical component becomes particularly prominent if the exhibition ‘Blow Up’ is considered together with a complementary exhibition held a few years ago, which was called ‘Blow Down’. In photographic jargon, this term does not exist, which means that Stanko used humour and gentle irony. Still, his idea was crystal clear and aesthetically complete. On that occasion, of course, visitors were confronted with radically reduced photographs, most of them showing landscapes and architecture. Actually, landscape and architecture in Stanko’s visions always represent a compatible and indivisible whole; he sees them as themes that always go together in harmony, never diminishing each other. But ‘Blow Down’ actually indicated something else entirely. The extremely small formats (18x24 mm) forced the visitors to get extremely close to the technically perfect scenes, but they would manage to detect only the most basic visual facts. The long shots, therefore, were given the characteristics of tiny details, while the actual details were absolutely imperceptible. It brings us to an interesting paradox: we value details only when someone makes them inaccessible. And Stanko did just that! ‘Blow Down’, therefore, provokes the viewer to ask questions, while ‘Blow Up’ tries to find answers. Possible answers, however, will always provoke new questions, closing the circle of learning.


Stanko Herceg clearly belongs to the group of puzzle-solving photographers, and sometimes he has the need to engage in pure experimentation. A good example was the very interesting exhibition called ‘Photograph 0’. Every roll of film has a zero shot, used by the photographer only to prepare the film for shooting. Stanko made innumerable such shots, of course, but he came to realize that some of them have an intriguing visual potential. They had chaotic, random, but visually very impressive compositions, where chance, intuition and – most importantly – the lack of authorial control played a key role once again.


The act of shooting, as interpreted by Stanko, looks like some kind of a Big Bang; in a split second, it creates a highly aesthetic microcosm that can only subsequently and gradually be understood by its creator in its entirety. Many philosophers have talked about cognitive qualities of artistic creation. These qualities can be quite varied. A painter, for example, usually comprehends during the creative process; in a painting, little or nothing is left to chance. A photograph is significantly different, as we are shown by Stanko Herceg. A painting is a synthesis of countless moments, which are constantly controlled and occasionally corrected by the author, but photographic time is extremely dense. From the moment of the fateful miniature Big Bang, many things start happening quite independently. Thoughts of this kind are the basic generator of Stanko’s sophisticated, even philosophically intriguing, photographic aesthetic.