Ivan Hrkaš’ photography holds many different, sometimes unrelated strands, in tension. These are images which are simultaneously pin-sharp and blurred; intimate and impersonal; realistic and hallucinogenic. His images, rich in saturated colour, beckon us into a world which parallels but never touches our own. The latest series of photographs, exhibited at Collegium Artisticum in September, continue a trajectory which has been developing for over a year now; based on a love of the domestic, a wide circle of friends, and a passionately inquiring and well-informed critical mind.
Present in every one of these latest images, is a microscopic attention to interior detail, and to the effect of light and differing climactic conditions. The English collector H.S. “Jim” Ede, on moving to a new house, used to sit for the first evenings, before he unpacked his things, observing the play of light and shadow on the walls, and the random chance of pattern and grain; there is a similar sensibility at play here. Hrkaš encourages us to look again at the everyday with new eyes, to sit and take time to contemplate the domestic that is so familiar to us, we cease to notice it. In so doing, he draws us into unfamiliar living spaces and encourages his audience to focus as intently as he does, in making the image.
But photographs which are merely still, and beautifully composed, rarely hold the attention for long. We also encounter several layers of tension and unease in these images. Below, the presence of a showering man can make the viewer feel like an unwanted intruder on a private moment; being granted priveliged access to the private life of someone who has not conceded it.
This photograph, in bringing us so close to an unknown subject, confronts us with how distanced we really are from most people; of the disjunct between public selves and private reality. Some of the barriers that divide these two states are provided by everyday and high fashion, and many of Hrkaš’ works, have a sensibility derived in part from fashion and film. But these are maybe incidental compared to the strong echoes that the photo has from the interior paintings of the Danish realist Vilhelm Hammershøi, and, more recently, the early Los Angeles paintings and screenprints of David Hockney.
Such referents will vary from viewer to viewer, but for all, the strength of the composition controls how we process the information here. The intense small shaft of cobalt blue, from the shower’s curtain rail, in the top right of the picture, insistently draws our attention, looking over the shoulder of the anonymous male. This seemingly small detail sets up the animating tension between close up and distance, between voyeurism and impassivity. The blue rail is echoed by the silver of the shower head, which in turn points us towards the patterned perfection of the curtain; only once these interior details are processed does our eye turn- fleetingly- to the figure, who he might be, and the uncertainty of our relationship to him.
Blue forms a similar function in the photo of a sunbathing man and companion. This is another meticulously composed image, perhaps the most redolent of fashion photography of all those discussed here. A bar of shadow rests across the figure’s chest, his anonymity ensured by the hiding of the eyes in the crook of the arm. A commonplace of art history is that the eyes are the most important element of a portrait; we are left here in the position of an ambiguous close up of a figure whose identity is as obscured, as if we were seeing him from a hundred metres distance. The same is true for his companion, clad in blue, with his back turned to the viewer. There is an ambiguous sexuality in this photo; we are left unsure if these men are just close friends or lovers, something encapsulated in the position of the prone man’s hand at the top of the image. Again, there are two readings; it could just be unwittingly resting there, or caress just beyond our scrutiny. Once more, every crease in the bedsheet, the acute capturing of the fall and play of light, form a stage set for an unresolvable human drama.
The choice of a career as a Fine Art photographer is an uncertain one in the most stable of cultural contexts, let alone here in Sarajevo and wider BiH. Hrkaš, who has a background both here and in Jerusalem, and who also works at the Academy of Fine Art, has a very stable platform upon which to develop the captivating line of imagery he is developing here. His photographs constantly re-trace shifting borderlines, between hyper-realist painting, photography, scenography and theatre. A genuine love for the beauty that can be found in the everyday, and a restless appreciation of the contigencies of that relationship, drive these latest works. They can be enjoyed merely in formal terms, but for me the most interesting aspect of them is finality and closure constantly deferred; both in the new details that are observed in looking repeatedly at these images, and at the parallel narrative sequencing they provoke in the mind. In a visual culture saturated with both original and photoshopped imagery, the ability to not only hold the gaze of a restless audience, with an ever-shortening attention span, but to make them come back for more, is a truly remarkable thing to have.
Many thanks to Ivan for giving up his time for a recent interview, and for allowing us to reproduce his photographs with this article.