I used to keep a blog section on this site, where I had intended to post regular updates of my day to day life and travels in the Balkans, but which mostly served as a sort of sketchpad for projects I was working on, or a repository for stories I wasn’t able to get published elsewhere. Life got in the way, as it does, and that section ended up laying dormant for many years now, so long that upon revisiting it I felt like the tone of writing and style of my work no longer reflected who I am now as a visual artist.
As the pandemic has meant I’ve been spending a lot more time in one place, and a lot more time inside, it’s given me the chance to go back through a lot of my archives, which has brought back memories and stories from the last eight years working and traveling in the Balkans. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to restart this section under a new heading: Dispatches from the Balkans.
The Balkans remains an overlooked and misunderstood region in Europe, so close yet somehow very far from the rest of the Continent. Beyond the images of chaos, war, and social upheaval in the early 1990s, many people lack a contemporary conception of what the landscape and culture of the Balkans looks like. I know I did, when I first traveled to the region in 2013, only knowing what I saw on the TV as a child, when a country called Yugoslavia disintegrated. I remember when I was around 7 or 8 years old, watching a travel show where a British journalist was taking an overnight ferry from Italy to a country called Albania, a mysterious place that had been forbidden to foreigners, a place that was wild and lawless.
These themes of conflict, lawlessness, and mystery were very much in my head before I came to the region, before I discovered the beauty, the wild landscapes, the hospitality, the traditions, the culture that still remains largely preserved in ways that have been lost in “the West.” These were the stories I wanted to tell, positive stories that focus on the present and future of the Balkans, that recognise the past and contextualise it, but that don’t leave thing defined by it. When I met with an editor from a well known US magazine, before I moved to the region, he told me that they rarely published anything from the Balkans, that a lot of newspapers or magazines had “kinda gotten over the Balkans after all the wars there.” I saw his point, but it also seemed absurd to me that a region should fall into irrelevance simply because it was no longer in conflict, and thus remain stuck that way in many people’s minds.
So, my hope with these articles will be to share some contemporary stories from my time working in places like Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovnia, and to hopefully answer some of the common questions I receive from people related to my work and time in these countries. I hope you’ll enjoy following along.