Reflections on Radionica (Work Shop), a Necessary Journeys project
The opportunity to go on a ‘necessary journey’ caught my imagination, as I wanted to spend more time on a research trip that would be differently defined in terms of expectations and content then my regular visit ‘home’.
I spent one month in Bosnia, recording working life at my mother’s one bedroom flat, where she runs an individual tailoring business. I also photographed young women, at their homes, wearing their graduation dresses, made by my mother.
My mother, Anica Glisic, runs a small sewing/tailoring business from her one bedroom flat, in Banja Luka, Bosnia. She has two women working for her. They start at 7am and finish work at 3 pm, although quite often my mother will continue working long into the evening. They often work on Saturdays too. My mother has utilised the small space of her flat, to include an area where the sewing machines are, with a specialist steam iron, an area where the patterns are being either taken (which transforms into a dining table) and there is a space for an L-shaped sofa settee, where numerous Turkish coffee cups are drank and reams of fashion magazines looked through.
I wanted to be in the middle of the whole costume drama and to be completely consumed by it all. I recorded, women and girls, of all ages, coming to her flat, to discuss materials, patterns, what would they look best in given their body shape, whether they have lost weight, or gained weight, any new gossip…I was struck by their relationship to time, on average a customer could easily spend one hour just looking through the fashion magazines, and discussing their ideas with my mother. The amazement about the intimacy and a sense of comfortableness with female bodies safe in this all female environment, I felt when I was there in April, stayed. This time I was there with my camera, slightly anxious about breaking the privacy, even if that privacy was shared amongst several women. I wondered about my role, my status: I wasn’t a stranger, I was Anica’s daughter, and that earned the trust. But, what was the burden that trust placed upon me?
Another fascination was with the way glamour and the world of celebrities pervaded the cloths making business. My mother has become an expert in deconstructing how an outfit was made just simply by looking at a photograph of a dress worn by, for example Beyonce (a very popular choice) and designed by one of the famous designers (Versace label is very popular). A possibility of wearing a dress, designed by high fashion designer, from a perspective of living in London, just seemed to me, well, unimaginable. Was it empowering? Did it offer, if only temporary, a relief from the burden of everyday existence?
The world in my mother’s flat seemed like a capsule, removed from the daily realities of living in Bosnia.
I also photographed young women, who graduated recently from their high school education, at their homes, wearing their graduation dresses. All of them have had a dress made by my mother, and nearly all the dresses were based on a picture of a celebrity or a model wearing a famous designer dress.
Each time I visited a different person, I would always be warmly greeted, offered a coffee, and there would usually be a member of family there, completely curious and fully involved with what was unfolding. The young women would pose either in their own rooms, or in their living rooms. I entered their private spaces, and felt a mixture of feelings, an intruder, stranger, welcomed visitor, sister. They faced me with their innocence, intelligence, beauty and naiveté about what was ahead. I recognised myself, at the same age, filled with the positive energy, and the blindness for the horrifying nature of the unknown. This energy brought me to London, at exactly the same point in life these girls are at. For me, life stopped and then at a hurling speed continued in a completely new direction.
All the girls I visited and spoke to, were continuing their studies. I was curious if they wanted to leave Bosnia, and received a mixture of answers; some of them wanted to leave but couldn’t (visa restrictions lie heavily on Bosnian citizens), and some said that they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine going back to live in Bosnia. Leaving home, in 1992, at the brink of the civil war, was abrupt, and incredibly insecure experience. But, I never felt a sense of regret, or guilt, only a sense of release, freedom and a wonderful if at times blinding fear of the unknown.