This is one of a series of five portraits of young people living in Belgrade. The photographs were taken approximately eight months after the democratic revolution of 5th October 2000, when mass demonstrations in Belgrade and other Serbian cities overthrew the regime of communist leader Slobodan Milosovic (born 1941). Collins photographed individuals he knew well, focusing on close-up and sometimes partial views of their faces as they lay on grass, possibly in a park. In some images, long blades of grass partly obscure the subjects’ faces, casting dark shadows in the bright sunlight. In others, the subject is further away and appears more autonomous from the viewer. The photographs feature rich, saturated colour and a sensual atmosphere created by the juxtaposition of sun-drenched skin in the sun on the grass and the close proximity of a face-to-face encounter. The romantic theme of youth coupled with nature is undercut by the disenchanted gaze of the subjects who, although pictured looking back at the viewer, appear distant and lost in their own thoughts. In this image, Milan’s face has a closed, resentful look at odds with the beautiful, soft light and the profusion of grass and leaves around him. His buttoned-up white shirt and straight hair brushed over his face could belong to any fashionable young man in the western world.
Collins was born and educated in England but now lives and works in Belfast, as well as spending time in Belgrade, New York and, most recently, Brighton. Since completing an MA in Fine Art from the University of Ulster, Belfast in 1998, he has been making work in video, photography and installation exploring issues of political, social, cultural and personal identity through an examination of media representation of people in (frequently) war-torn zones. While accepting the necessarily exploitative nature of conflict reportage and documentary, he uses the genres to question the relationships between commerce, voyeurism and human suffering. Collins first visited Belgrade in 1999 and was struck by a mood of disappointment and betrayal in the wake of high expectations created by the recent establishment of democracy. The young Serbs he photographed were friends who, he felt, typified this sense of disillusionment, of life having passed them by. In their late twenties with a history of disrupted education and the threat of military service still hanging over them, they felt there was little hope for personal success in their futures. Speaking of the series, the artist has commented:
I was thinking about the tyranny of recent representations of Serbs, the way photojournalism had cornered the market like a bully. I was thinking about the representational field and those who lie either inside or outside it ... To look away from the spectacular and to employ quite simply the lush, the beautiful, the luxurious. What could this mean? I wanted to create an intimate situation (for when else do we see someone lying down?) because intimacy ... was one of those values denied by reportage. Ambivalence. Tenderness. Accusations. Invitations ... I wanted you to fall in love with them.
(Quoted in Kultureflash.)
Each photograph in the Young Serbs series is printed in an edition of five. Tate’s copies are the fifth in the series.
Massimiliano Gioni and Michele Robecchi, ‘Phil Collins: Face Value’, Flash Art, Jan.-Feb.2002, pp.84-6
‘Artworker of the Week #2: Phil Collins@Anthony Wilkinson Gallery’, Kultureflash, no.20, 22nd October 2002, [n.p.]
Kate Bush, Reality Check: recent developments in British photography and video, exhibition catalogue, Photographers’ Gallery, London and Moderna Galerija, Ljublijana 2002, pp.9, 18-23 and 111