in Leica World, 2-2002

We know him at the latest since his 1997 big exhibition in Arles : Klavdij Sluban ­ in France one of today's most interesting talents. His latest cycle takes us to Black Sea. But is that important ?

When he talks, he talks slowly. Not that he doesn't master the french language. Quite the opposite : his French is excellent. Although Klavdij Sluban never tires no stress that his Slovenian is a lot better. But then, that is the native tongue. He grew up with Slovenian : Klavdij Sluban, born in 1963 in Paris, childhood in the Balkans, high school and studies literature in Paris, returns to Slovenia, and back in Paris since 1992. As we already said, when he talks, he talks slowly, thinks before he speaks, reflects on the question instead of providing a quick answer. This could be because Klavdij Sluban has been very much torn between two cultures and nations, and he first doubts everything and everyone. He shoots photographs. But is he a photographer because of it ? French' nationality is written in his passport. But wasn't he as a foreigner long enough ? He of course participated in darkroom courses with Georges Fèvre, the legendary printer at Picto. But perhaps expressions that go beyond the sphere of technology are more apt for the field of photography ? « For me », says Klavdij Sluban, « photography has a great deal to do with language. A good photo is like a well structured sentence : It explains an event to those who were not there at the time. »
Klavdij Slubans picture language is dark. His photos live from lavish black. From an atmosphere wich could easily be interpreted as disturbing. Paragons ? Even at the age of sixteen, says Klavdij Sluban, he knew exactly wich pictures he liked and which one he didn't. « These were and still pictures which describe and simultaneously trenscend reality. » He does not dispute that he was influenced by the art of Roberet Frank in this respect. He also feels particularly commited to the idea of an independant photography. An approach to photography away from the mainstream and without assignement. Photography that relies on its own independent choice to subject. « When I set off on a journey » says Klavdij Sluban, « I know long it will take. But between arrival and departure I keep my mind as free as possible, rather like no man's land. »

Klavdij Sluban is a traveler out of season and away from any commercial aspects, Brigitte Ollier writes in her preface to the latest book of the photographer. « From desolate, poor, grey regions he brings home pictures that are alwyas in B&W. His work encompasses the subject of time. He is interessed in people, without wishing to expose them. Sluban is not a paparazzo of realism. He shoots with the people at eyes' level, constantly aware of his occupation that allows many different kinds of interpretations. Including the worst ones. »
Klavdij Sluban is a travel photographer of a different kind. He sets off on discovery travels on his own, with the rucksack, his Leica and doesn't know, doesn't want to know what is in waiting for him. His photography is as spontaneous as changes in direction. A ship sailing for Odessa can be the beginning of a new, big cycle. Across the Black Sea, for example. Which really is black, Sluban emphasizes. « It's the poor relative of the pampered, wealthy, stimulating azure-blue Mediterranean. » It was here at the Black Sea that Klavdij Sluban felt it would be consistent to continue his big Balkans cycle. He had not searched for the topic as such. « I don't rack my brain looking for topics, they come on their own accord. »

Since the end of the nineties, Klavdij Sluban has been shooting pictures at the Black Sea. These do not convey the view of a geographer or photojournalist. They are not shot on commission, but are free and intrigue the artist who mixes his palette from the subdued colors of the regions. « Especially in winter the grey tones are remarkable », says Klavdij Sluban. Everything appears wiped out. Everyone is hilding away with their thoughst. It is just the opposite to an extrovert way of living, and should not be confused with emptiness : Adeventures are never where one expects to find them. » Klavdij Sluban's adventures emerge from the half-light. They are actually more like well-caught gestures. The event is not his subject matter, but the quiet moment. Not the sensational point, as Roland Barthes puts it. But the actual study : the atmosphere of a region ans its people dipped into dark tones.Possibly the Black Sea its seven countries along the coast is just a excuse for Klavdij Sluban to get away and be on his own. On his own with his thoughts and the piece of literature he always takes with him. And the camera which, of course, is a Leica. « Today » says Klavdij Sluban, « you see the photographers that will tell you the time in Tokyo or the cinema program of New Yorkk and perhaps they can even make coffee. I am not interested. Because at some stage the only thing that counts is what goes on between the camera and the motif. I want a relationship to develop between me and what I shoot. The one thing that is then in between is called a Leica ».