Marko Umicevic is a fine art and experimental photographer working in a black and white silver-based medium. His work is based on optic of self-designed pinhole camera in pair with paper negative as a preferred medium of choice. More recently, he started experimenting with photo paper as his only tool. Marko has a MA Degree in Art History and formal photographic training. He exhibited internationally in both Europe and USA and his work has been featured in several publications.
What is your name? How old are you? And, where are you from?
My name is Marko Umicevic, I’m 36 years old. I live in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where my darkroom and digital studio are based. My photographic adventure started off with film and medium format camera. Seven years ago I started producing photographs with self-designed pinhole cameras and my newest project goes even further than that: experimenting camera-less, with photo paper as my only equipment. In my newest project I use the medium of photography to create a deeper bond between myself and nature and to explore the unbelievable potency of nature, its self-sufficiency and the power to create and nurture life within its soil. I am magically attracted to the art of creating pictures, but my interest does not lie in mere photocopy of reality.
In your own words, what do you do?
I shoot with home-made pinhole cameras, which I designed specifically to hold a single sheet of paper at a time, instead of film. I crafted cameras out of simple materials such as cardboard, wood or aluminium. They are made to be sturdy and functional and aren’t looking fancy at all. With these self-designed cameras I made three portfolios so far: Malkauns, Floating Outerworlds and Mirror of Prague. Beside new images that are in colour, all my work is black and white and most of it is printed by hand in the darkroom.
Why do you do what you do?
It brings me a lot of joy, really. There is something deeply personal and intimate about it. Especially in making photographs that are deprived of human presence, big civilizational achievements and all these glittering little things our consumeristic realities are made of. I wanted to escape from all that and to contemplate my own vision of the world, and the vision of myself in that world. I love the slowness of it, I love being in the process, I love the ability to be in control of the process from the very beginning until the very end.
What is integral to your practice?
I would say consistency and truthfulness to my own visions and aesthetics. I am very meticulous and detail oriented when it comes to light, working with chemicals, tonality, etc., but also I’m constantly trying to explore something new and to move my own boundaries even further. I have a lot of patience. I never rush to finish up something just to complete the series and sometimes one photograph remains in my mind for months before I finally let it go. I would say I can be idealistic lunatic sometimes, but I love working within the medium and I’m amazed with its possibilities.
I was introduced to a pinhole at a time when I was already working with analogue camera. But I switched to pinhole because I felt there were more things to explore and I loved the strangeness of perspective. Since I was able to design my own cameras and load them with paper, cut to my own liking, soon I discovered all the perks of working with non-standard formats and having everything done in nonconventional way. Finally, there is this phenomenon of pinhole light as pinhole renders light differently than any lens does. When I make photographs with pinhole camera, sometimes it feels that light literally draws shapes of outer world onto the paper, as if some kind of magic is present inside of the box.
Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice?
As a photographer I was always attracted to landscapes and cityscapes. Locations I choose all have personal relevance to me and I don’t see it happening any other way. For instance, Floating Outerworlds has been made in wilderness of highly depopulated area of mountain Croatia (region of Lika), where my grandmother lives. The nature there is basically untouched and unpolluted and you can really feel yourself close to it. Then there is series Mirror of Prague which is my personal homage to childhood days spent in Prague when I visited my father during the 90s. I referred to Prague as to the city of magic and I always feel magical when I’m there, so I tried to convey that feeling to my photographs.
Has your practice change over time? If so, how?
Over the years I switched my focus from reality to dreamlike reality. And when it comes to process of making pictures, I think I started to see photo paper, i.e. paper negative, as even more important tool than camera itself. The processing of paper negative remained the same. But today I also use digital tools, such as scanner and printer, after I exit my darkroom. So with being completely lo-fi and out of this time, I also try not to avoid being digital, which also means presence on social networks.
Is there a specific piece you’re especially proud of? And why?
It’s the photograph “Outer Heavens” from my portfolio Floating Outerworlds. This piece has been widely exhibited and published on several occasions.
From whom do you draw the most inspiration?
Nature, art and music are always biggest inspirations for me. I love to discover other artists whose sentiment resembles my own; that always comes as big inspiration too. Lately I was blown away by “Littoral Drift” by Meghann Riepenhoff and “Force Fields” by Liz Nielsen.
What is your dream project?
The project I am currently working on. I’d love to keep my focus on the nature for a longer period of time and just see where it takes me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Croatian fine art photographer Josip Klarica, one of the pupils of famous Czech photographer Josef Sudek, said to me when he reviewed my first pinhole photographs that “there always must be something in the middle of the frame”. And this advice was very helpful to me. I realized that even when something is not there, for instance when I’m capturing vast landscape, this “optical centre” has to be somewhere in my head. “Centre” is just a concept.