It has been a long time since living in Paris, walking in Paris, taking photographs of Paris or only feeling nostalgic about Paris, hasn’t been a great privilege or a rare opportunity anymore. As a matter of fact, visiting “the city of lights”, finding inspiration in its avenues and boulevards, capturing typical scenes and picturesque figures, without speaking of diving with passion into its civilizational heritage of sedimented layers, symbolised actually by the ephemeral inventories of bouquinistes along the banks of the Seine, all this belongs to the indispensable education of a traditional European intellectual, especially of those with creative professions and corresponding ambitions.
Architect Damir Perinić is an educated person who has been living in Paris for ages. He is deeply aware of how dangerously attractive and attractively common (or vice versa: how attractively dangerous and commonly attractive) Parisian scenes might be. Namely, most of the Parisian iconography has turned into a common place of universal cultural and touristic offer. Therefore, are we still allowed to point our camera at Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Pantheon, Tuileries or Sacré-Coeur while expecting to find something unseen or interesting while framing the shot? There are so many locations, less interesting though, so many unnamed scenes along the streets of Paris leaving the impression of something famous and over-used, of an almost abused canonised photogenicity.
That’s why Perinić’ approach is unpretentious and nonchalant, that’s why he insists on being direct and close to objects and faces. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take care of the historical value of his numerous subjects or of the symbolical “saturation” of the context. On the contrary, he keeps on searching and finding the freedom to react to a challenge properly, to find the appropriate moment, almost in a split of a second. In other words, he is a studious flâneur, a curious walker who crosses the city centre or the suburban areas with his camera ready. He is actively interested in all phenomena of urban life (it’s no coincidence that he is an architect), but maybe even more in people’s temporary gatherings, and most of all in unexpected, unplanned, unimagined cases of intimate encounters, of almost instinctive reactions.
Here, the city is mainly the background, or rather a co-creator of the atmosphere, of the context, it gives the frame to what’s going on. It helps to keep a necessary distance from the monuments. For instance, when the Eiffel tower is observed through miniature replica of buildings, there is a touch of irony, it becomes smaller and smaller, it is put into perspective before being eventually downgraded to its own copy with much humour. Some parts of the buildings frequently lose their physical autonomy or their environmental value, especially when an advertising slogan or some graffiti become superior to them due to their provocative, striking and explicit meaning. Thus, if we can read “Voici je rêve de…” on a wall, the person in the picture standing next to it, has necessarily become an actor given that he or she is now connected to the semantic link of dreaming. A Louis Vuitton shopping bag covering the face of a sitting person is proof of depersonalisation or, even more, of the commercial alienation of the subject. Or, if in a picture, a toilet bowl can be seen in a street corner, it will certainly remind us of the allusion (also) to a Duchamp fountain or, at least, of a small challenge, of a provocation which lies in mixing the interior with the exterior.
But much more than in his surrealist combinations of astonishing contrasts or in his expressive poetry while matching attractions, we can feel Perinić' genuine sensibility for pop art in his photographic method. In addition to that, we can feel how attentive he is to contemporary subjects, we can also understand his sense for paradoxical non-commonness of everyday objects and events. However, I prefer to link his work programme to his realistic and naturalistic practice of observing a “tranche de vie” while selecting and focusing on extracts from life, registering and emphasizing anecdotes and ephemeral situations in their every day environment. It’s no coincidence that a significant number of photos is dedicated to the relationship between men and women, that is to say to encounters and hugs, flirting, in other words, to the scenes from the peak of our existence.
In some of the most expressive Perinić’ shots there are couples as pars pro toto of a crowd, as a tiny part, typical for a bigger whole. It is particularly the case in aerial photographs of hugging people at the bottom of a staircase or by the river, where plans and perspectives are harmoniously interwoven. Thus, the photographer has created impressive effects by positioning figures in a game of light and shadow, in a dynamic polarisation between darker and more transparent layers. On the other hand, when he shoots in parcs, it is the organic nature of vegetation that establishes a particularly rhythmic parcellation of elements, it is the place where human factor almost gets dissipated in the thicket of visual accents.
Perinić, who is not just an architect but also a vigorously modern artist, could not remain indifferent to such structural challenges. That’s why he frequently and spontaneously reacted to the beauty of non-figurative, “abstract” compositions and combinations. Thus, at the view of a construction skeleton, he felt the need to take a picture of its orthogonal, Julije Kiefer-style network. Later on, in front of a complex lattice made of juxtaposed surfaces in the style of Ivan Picelj (not to say of Mondrian) — he reacted the same way. Still, he couldn’t resist the enformelistic and playful facture of a collapsed wall nor the resolutely material aspect of various clusters.
For his excursions into the aesthetics or poetics of non-mimetic hypothesis, Perinić has been generously compensated. Indeed, he is a mindful, almost obsessed portraitist and has an affective need for empathy and communication with street faces passing by, with the people he meets. Therefore, the final result of his portraits of various physionomies and generations, different races and social classes is simply impressive. Still, it is never about posing nor about attractive stylisation but rather about a vital and improvised action of finding the best views and a privileged moment of (the photographer’s) concentration and (the model’s) ease.
While remaining faithful to the black and white photography, Damir Perinić has unwillingly become a ring of a long chain of big classics, those who reached their very best in the world of arts in Paris. In this manner he has actually stayed loyal to Baudelaire’s hypothesis who, as an artist, was tracking subjects on pavements and could literally smell them anywhere. At the same time, he can, courageously and politely, address “a woman passing by for whom he doesn’t know where she is heading to whereas she doesn’t have the slightest idea where he is going to”. The original uncertainty of accidental encounters matches ideally with the nature of photos as witnesses. Personally, I sincerely hope that the author of the many interesting shots from his Parisian cycle could eventually find some Benjamin-inspired interpretation of his future flâneries.
translated by Maja Cioni
by Damir Perinić