Croatia. I knew nothing about Croatia except that it’s in Europe…somewhere. So when one day I got an email from Maja Danica Pecanic, it was pretty exciting! I had no idea that this little site made it alllllll the way to Europe! Go internet! Then when I saw her food photos I knew right away that I wanted to feature her work and also to learn something about Croatia. Did you know that Lidia Bastianich is Croatian? Eh you probably knew that, but I sure didn’t.
Q. Can you tell me what you’re trying to capture when you take your food photos?
A. I try to capture the atmosphere and the moment, the feeling that food and everything around it provides. People have always experienced food in very personal ways. It is a vital part of our lives, not merely a way to gain energy needed to sustain life. Food is connected to personal rituals, to family memories; it is how we spend time with friends and how we find enjoyment when we are alone. I try to create just such a relationship in my photos; I attempt to depict food in such contexts. But all this would be quite impossible without the food stylists I work with who share my views of food and food photography.
Q. Have you always been interested in photography? If not when did you decide to start taking photos?
A. No, I have not. I got into photography pretty late, while I was a student of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts. I had never even owned a camera before that. I started out with a small amateur digital one (of the first generation of digital cameras). I remember being instantly thrilled with it, so photography became my main medium of expression which resulted in my graduating with a series of photographs. There is a connection between graphic arts, painting and photography – it is all expression in a defined format, playing with elements of composition, with the interaction of light, shadow and color. The camera is only a medium for this form and photography a technique in which I express myself best as an artist. This is why I am not a follower of the cult of photography equipment. It is my belief that the person behind the camera – what that person thinks and feels – is the most important element. The camera is just a medium of expression.
Q. Can you explain a little about your thought process when you’re getting ready to shoot?
A. To me, the way I feel while I create is vital. The first thing that gets me going is the atmosphere I wish to convey. I am inspired by a theme, a story. In a way, it is like I am not really photographing food – the food holds the position of a main actor in a show – but rather the space that I create, this „scenography“ somehow becomes more relevant. I create a space that is not real, one that represents my personal experience that I tie to the food I shoot. Like an echo, a resounding of some inner impulse. This is my perception that has little to do with the way we perceive food in real life; I wish to present how we feel food.
Q. As an artist, a photographer, what is it like living in Croatia? What sort of impact does where you live have on your work?
A. I believe myself very lucky, because I earn a living doing a job I love. In Croatia, it is rather difficult to be an artist who earns a living from their art, and I have managed to do this.
As in all Mediterranean countries, a lot of attention is paid to the culture of eating and setting a table. This is not something you learn as a child, it is something one lives with since childhood and develops during an entire lifetime. It is part of the cultural heritage which led me to photograph food.
I am glad to be living in a time when the world is a big village, although that is a controversial matter as well. Nonetheless, there are huge advantages to modern technology, such as the internet which grants us better communication and broader scope of information. I have no sense of how the region I live in influences my work; I think globalization has led to the fact that the local differences are less felt due to the mixing of national identities. This I do not consider a bad process, rather I see it as an enrichment of cultures.
Q. Any photography heroes?
A. Mikkel Vang and Ditte Isager. Although one would never guess it from my work, I have a soft spot for quality photojournalism. Nothing surpasses the honesty of a real moment and of a whole specter of human emotion, behavior, out sociological similarities and differences… I enjoy Magnum photos.
Q. I’m actually not very familiar with the Croatian cuisine. If I were to visit what should I eat?
A. The traditional Croatian cuisine is very interesting. Historically, Croatia has been exposed to a number of different cultures: Italian, Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish. And then there are the Greek and Roman heritage from ancient times. Different Croatian regions have different cuisines. There are huge differences depending on which part of the country one is in. For example, coastal Croatia will emphasize fish, lamb, olive oil and wine. One should taste pašticada (Dalmatian meat stew), brodet (fish stew), Komiška pogaca (savoury aromatic cakes), Istrian fuzi with truffles, rozata (a Croatian caramel custard), while in the continental Croatia the accent will be on meat dishes and cheeses and one should sample strukli (a cottage cheese pastry), fresh cottage cheese and cream, turkey with mlinci (flat dumplings), strudel. The specific thing about Croatia are its markets, they are the place one simply has to visit, the place where one gets food from small produce growers and food manufacturers, a place of socializing, of discussing food and of the tasting of food.
Photos courtesy of Maja Danica Pecanic