Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Street Style Photography as Cultural Ambassadorship: My Interview with Dasha Gajic of Street Style Banja Luka

I'm guessing most of my readers have never heard of Banja Luka, a small city of 199,000 or so inhabitants in the former Yugoslavian country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I hadn't. Which is why I was so intrigued when I stumbled upon the Tumblr page for Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic. Street style, at its best, draws our attention to places off the well-tread terrain of the international fashion industry, exposing us to images and ideas unavailable to us prior to the rise of the style blogosphere. Dasha has been working hard these last 18 months to put Banja Luka on the fashion map. She captures everyday people in her hometown with remarkable candor and confidence. And the people in her shots are amazingly stylish for any town, let alone one of its size. After I began following Dasha's Tumblr page, she began following mine. We struck up a correspondence — where I learned, for instance, that she shot her first street style photo ever in Philadelphia, of all places! — and that eventually led to the email conversation posted below.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: What’s the street style scene in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina like? Are there particular trends or styles that are unique to your city?

Dasha: It is tough for me to be objective. I have created the first street style blog/page in my hometown of Banja Luka and in the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It took so much energy and hard work. After 18 months I can say that we are doing a pretty good job. There are still many aspects that we need to improve, but I’m optimistic. Banja Luka isn’t NYC or London, but we have something to offer street style wise.

When it comes to trends, there are many similarities with trends in other cities in Europe and in the rest of the world.

Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: Do you shoot exclusively in Banja Luka, or are there other cities you visit frequently as well?

Dasha: Most of the time I take photographs in Banja Luka. Luckily, I travel a lot and in that sense I have opportunities to take street style photographs of interesting people and their stylish outfits. For example, I took some interesting photographs in Oslo (Norway).

But I must admit that my number one goal is to take street style photographs in my hometown of Banja Luka and show the rest of the world our way of life, our city, our culture.  It is a special feeling and such an honor to be able to do all of that through photography and fashion.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent:What do you think people learn about Banja Luka by looking at your images? Is there something cultural that comes through in them?

Dasha: I hope that they can learn about our history, culture, and way of life. It’s not just about fashion or style. Through images people can see our buildings, monuments, street art, atmosphere on the streets,interactions between people, emotions… There are many aspects and layers in almost every photograph...

Brent: If one were interested in shooting street style in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where would you recommend they go?
Dasha: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautiful country and everyone should visit it, not just street style photographers and bloggers. To be completely honest, street style wise we need to improve and there are many, many, many steps until we reach the position of one of the top destinations for street style photographers. I am optimistic and pretty sure that we have something to offer and to share with the global street style community. My recommendation would be to come to Banja Luka and meet very friendly and stylish people.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: How familiar are the people you stop with street style blogs? Do you have to do much explaining about what you do?

Dasha: When I started, there were many questions, dilemmas, and doubts, and now it is a different story. 98% of the people who I stop on the street know about my work. It is flattering and rewarding.

Brent: What do you say to people when you stop them on the streets?

Dasha: “Hello. I am Dasha from SSBLbyDG…." and before I even finish my sentence people are ready to pose. It happens in 98% of the cases. From time to time I get a NO for an answer but that is part of the job. Banja Luka is a small town, and pretty much everyone knows each other, so it is probably easier than in bigger cities.

I am overwhelmed and touched by this kind of support, love, and positive energy which I get every day from all the nice people in Banja Luka.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: Do you tell people how to pose? Or let them pose how they want?

Dasha: I really want people to feel comfortable and confident in front of my camera, so I encourage   them to act naturally and to pose how they want. Sometimes I suggest something, but I try to avoid interfering as much as I can. In my opinion my job is to document, not to create and interfere…

Brent: How did you get into shooting street style? What’s your story?

Dasha: Oh, it is such a long story. In 2006 I was part of Youth Leadership Program and I spent some time in the U.S. One day I was on a field trip in Philly. My friends and I were watching a baseball game, and it was boring, so I started to look around and I noticed very stylish people. When we were leaving the stadium I decided to approach a man who had like a zillion pins on his outfit. I just said,“I like your outfit," and I asked if I could take a photo of him. He said “yes,” and I felt very proud and happy, because it took me a lot of courage to do that. I was just a teenager with an old and tiny camera, so it was a huge step for me. At that time, the first street style blogs were appearing, and I was impressed and inspired by the whole idea.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
When I came back home to Banja Luka I had a plan to start my own blog, but at the time I was still a high school student, and I didn’t have a good camera. Also I was busy with studying, preparing for college, traveling, and life in general. So having a street style blog was my teenage dream. Years were passing by and photography in general was my hobby all of that time. In  2012 I went to Italy (Venice) for a few days, and all of a sudden I started taking street style photographs. It felt so good. All the memories, plans and wishes about street style came back alive. I showed my photographs to my family and friends, and everybody liked them. So they encouraged me to follow my dreams. In a few months I got a few offers from the local/regional fashion blogs/magazines/webzines. So it was now or never.  I created my Street Style page on Facebook in September 2012. After that, everything was like a fairy tale. I started many collaborations in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then I became part of the Street Style News family, and now I am doing an interview for Urban Fieldnotes.  How cool is that?  
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: Is street style photography a career for you or a hobby? Or is it something else besides? How do you respond when people ask if you are a professional photographer?

Dasha: Street style photography is my hobby, my job, my passion, and my lifestyle. It really means a lot to me on so many levels. Right now I couldn’t imagine my everyday life without street style photography. I don’t know what the future brings, but I am thankful for all the nice things that happened in the last 18 months since my street style fairy tale officially began.

Well, I just tell them my story when they ask. I am a self-taught photographer, but I don’t consider it as a disadvantage. Many of the top street style photographers or photographers in general are self-taught, and that didn’t stop them. The most important thing is a natural gift or talent, then hard work, and last but not least, a bit of good luck.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: Are you able to make a living as a photographer? Or do you support yourself through other means?

Dasha: Unfortunately, no. I need to have a  “real” job to pay my bills. 

Brent: I’ve read in other interviews that you have a BA in Political Science and an MA in Women's Studies. How do you think your academic background influences the way you approach your street style photography?

Dasha: That’s correct. I have a BA in Political Science and an MA in Gender Studies. At the moment I am finishing my MA thesis at Faculty of Political Sciences in Banja Luka.
Also, I am thinking about Ph.D. studies, but it is so hard for me to choose, because I have too many interests.

I try to divide my careers and not to let any influences occur, even though some overlaps could happen. Basically, on some level my academic background motivates me to look outside of the box and to see a bigger picture. For instance, I am not just taking photos of handsome/beautiful/skinny/young people in expensive clothes. Instead I am trying to present and share our way of live, emotions, customs, and culture. Through my work, you can feel the atmosphere and the energy, and it motivates you to ask yourself, “Where/What is Banja  Luka?"
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: I know you consider yourself a feminist. Is your street style photography also feminist? If so, what does it mean for street style photography to be feminist? And how is that reflected in the images you produce?

Dasha: Yes, I am a feminist, or just a person who wants equal rights and opportunities for every girl and woman in the world. Some of my earlier photography work (documentary and portrait photography) had a feminist approach, or let’s say it was inspired by women’s struggles, women’s rights, women’s history, gender-based violence, gender inequality, etc. My street style work is something else, and has nothing to do with feminism.

When I write about women’s heritage and women’s history, there is no connection to street style. When I talk or write about Political Culture or Political Communication, there is also no connection to my life as a street style photographer.And when I take street style photographs, I forget about my other careers/jobs, or whatever you like to call it.

All of those spheres are important to me, and if somebody would ask me to choose between   them, it would be impossible for me to choose.

At the moment I am able to find a balance between all the things I deeply care about, and it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I have my own dilemmas and questions, but if you believe in yourself and your work, everything works out eventually.

Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: What do you look for in a street style subject? And how do you know it when you see it?

Dasha: For me it is all about the details and positive energy. I don’t have a specific game plan or agenda.  I always follow my instincts. Sometimes I decide to take a photo of a person who just has one super-stylish detail. In some cases, I see people who are dressed to impress, but I decide not to take a photo of them, because they don’t have that “factor X” or because they seem to me like people with negative energy.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: What kind of camera and lens are you using to shoot street style these days? What are the good and bad points of using this camera for what you do?

Dasha: Right now I use a Canon EOS 7D with the kit lens (EF-S 18-135). I know that there are many better choices, but for me it is the best possible choice.  I am not obsessed with technical details and equipment. A good camera is important, but it isn’t the main thing.

Sometimes I take photographs with a camera like the Canon S100 and most of the people think that I did it with my 7D. Even some of the pros don’t see the difference.I did those things like an experiment, just to show that it isn’t all about the camera the and equipment. It is about your talent and your creativity.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: How would you describe the style of your photographs?

Dasha: This is the toughest question so far. I don’t like to analyze and comment upon my photographs. I leave that to the audience, my colleagues, etc.

I just can see that I am a workaholic and perfectionist, and because of that I always want to improve and improve and improve.

Brent: What photographers have been particularly influential on how you shoot?

Dasha: My all-time favorite photographers are Steve McCurry and Bill Cunningham. I admire them so much, and it would be awesome to have just 10% of their talent. I have attended one of McCurry’s exhibitions, and it’s probably the best photo exhibition I have ever attended. When it comes to Cunningham, he is the father of  street style, and he is such a role model to all of us.
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: You use Tumblr as the host of your blog, Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic. Why did you choose Tumblr, as opposed to, say, Blogger or WordPress? Are there advantages Tumblr affords over these other platforms?

Dasha: I just fell in love with Tumblr, and that’s it. Seriously, it is such a great platform to share your work and to follow other creative people from all over the world. It is easy to use, and it looks cool.

I am sure that Blogger and WordPress are pretty good too. At the end of the day, it isn’t important which platform you use. It is all about the content of your blog, your creativity, and your hard work.

Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: Even though Tumblr is your blog platform, I notice that you seem to use Facebook even more actively than your blog, concentrating most of your followers there, and even posting many of your images exclusively to there. Why is Facebook so important to what you do?

Dasha: Before I started my blog, I created the page Street StyleBanja Luka by Dasha Gajic on Facebook, just to see how will it work, and the rest is history. I have really amazing followers on Facebook, and they are important to me. I suppose that many of them don’t have Tumblr accounts, and that it is easier for them to follow all the news and photographs directly on Facebook. 
Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.
Brent: What other street style blogs do you regularly read? Are there any other bloggers from Bosnia and Herzegovina that you would recommend?

Dasha: Le 21ème, Facehunter, La Mode Outrè, and Garance Dorè. Also, I follow Cunningham’s work in the NewYork Times. From now on, I will read Urban Fieldnotes too.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina people are just starting to get familiar with the blog scene and street style scene. There aren’t many blogs at the moment. It takes time. This is just the beginning.

Photo by Dasha Gajic. Originally appeared on Street Style Banja Luka by Dasha Gajic.


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