On a recent trip to Croatia with Viking River Cruises, I took a day trip to the village of Osijek, a resilient prairie land, that lies hundreds of kilometers from Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, to meet a family who survived the conflict and rebuilt their home. In the 1990s, Osijek was almost completely destroyed in the Serbian-Croatian conflict—and in still, essentially, in ruins. As I walked through the city center and the residential side streets, I couldn’t help but realize how much of the city is covered in texture—and I suddenly wanted to photograph it.
I started snapping wildly, ducking in and out of alleyways and side streets, my camera stuck to my face, snapping anything and everything that was dilapidated, falling apart, peeling, or rotting. For a few moments, I was feeling really good about myself as a photographer—I was capturing the grittiness of Vukovar! I was getting past the veneer of Croatia as being only the Dalmatian coast! This was real street photography!
Of course, this moment was short-lived: I stopped myself in my tracks when I realized that not only was I not paying attention to the guide who was telling us all about the war and its aftermath, but I was obsessed with taking snapshots of the best peeling paint, the best dilapidated building, the best cracked window.
When I realized this, I was mortified. I started thinking about what it means, ethically, to take photos of a war-torn place and to highlight those cracks and peels rather than the buildings that have been rebuilt and restored. As I went through my photos again this week, I realize I am still figuring out what to say—and what to write, and how to write it—about Osijek, the fourth largest city of Croatia, this city of 100,000 survivors.
Perhaps this is a place to start.
A special thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting me on my recent stay in Croatia. I was sailing on the Passage to Eastern Europe itinerary when we visited Croatia.