Adagio for Sarajevo


Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description


September 2011 Juried
Invitational Exhibition

A Photographic Art Translation of Robin King’s
Adagio for Strings by Robin King


The instant I saw Robin’s digital artwork, four things instantly came together to evoke the affirmation of the human spirit exemplified by the artistic actions of cellist Vedran Smailović : the cello, the sheet music, the word “Adagio” and the glorious golden light swirling across Robin’s image.

Smajlović is known for playing his cello, notably Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, during the siege of Sarajevo. Along with the lucky ones, he survived cold, food and water shortages, constant bombings and vicious sniper fire into the streets from the surrounding hills. He became famous for playing his cello to honour each of the 22 people who had been killed by a bomb while they were queuing for bread. He played all around Sarajevo during the siege, in streets, bombed out buildings and tram cars. He was also known for playing for free at funerals during the siege, even though they would often be targeted by enemy fire. Smailović caught the imagination of people around the world and this alone was a tremendous blow to the terrorists attacking the city. (After Wiki)

These acts of passive resistance, these staements of peaceful art were a defense against the brutality and senselessness of war. I don’t want my translation to be a political statement at all, it is not about that in anyway. Robin’s artwork is a glorious expression of her feelings of joy when hearing or playing Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings . I wanted my photographic translation to evoke the same feelings about how music and visual art can honour the human spirit and sustain it. I want to somehow capture the glorious human spirit and resilience of the people of Sarajevo, using a golden light similar to Robin’s image and with the same feeling of solemn cello adagio music.

Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor has become the symbolic anthem of Sarajevo because of Smailović’s heroic playing during the siege. The video below shows how music and image can work together to evoke very strong emotions. Art is the only way you can deal with traumatic events like this.

I don’t normally “design” my photographs; I am a street photographer, making opportunistic photos and publishing them if I think one out of 200 might have meaning. I doubted that I could do it beautifully like Robin did. I worried it would be trite or inconsequential in some way, and fail to honour the original inspiration. The video below also inspired this photographic work.

Sarajevo: Before, During, and After the Siege

The two links below detail my Work-In-Progress during the Workshop. They involved experimentation and trial and error to learn the capabilities and limitations of “In-Camera Multiple-Exposure”. It was a requirement of the photographic translations that they not be composite images layered and manipulated in Photoshop. The photograph had to be a single image file, exported from the camera and only subjected to minimal post capture processing.

WIP #1 – Experimentation
WIP #2 – More Experimentation

And so “Adagio for Sarajevo” is my Final Translation of Robin’s original, digital artwork.

The final photograph comprises four separate exposures merged using In-Camera Multiple-Exposure in a Pentax K-7, DSLR, exported as one single photographic file and processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.4. The four exposures making up this image were as follows:

  • The first 3 pages of the sheet music of Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor for two cellos, photographed on an oblique angle, in tungsten light and underexposed to fill any dark corners in the final image. This piece of music has become the symbolic anthem of Sarajevo because of Vedran Smailović’s heroic playing during the siege. As a single rallying act, his use of his personal, peaceful art proved that people and the human spirit, not weapons can triumph over brutality and aggression.
  • A concert cello photographed from above in tungsten light.
  • The burning pages of a book, photographed in total darkness. The burning book symbolizes the systematic destruction and gutting of the Sarajevo Library. It was perhaps the single most powerful symbol of an aggressor trying to wipe out another people, both physically and culturally.
  • Yellow light refracted through a lead glass crystal bowl to “polish and blur” its impact on the overall image.

I apologize for some of the words visible on the particular page being burnt, it just happens to feature some rather colourful Australian phrases. However, this was by far the most difficult aspect of all the exposures and I was unable to duplicate it with a page of more polite words.

The final result is a long way from what I had in mind at the very start, but does contain all the basic elements in a less grand form. I hope everyone can “see” some of the meanings behind the symbols, and that it has at least a small amount of the glorious grace bursting from Robin King’s “Adagio for Strings”.

I would like to thank Robin, Frannie, Elizabeth, Maxy, Qnita and everyone in the SoJie 13 Workshop for helping me step a very long way out of my comfort zone. I learnt a great deal – in more ways than one ;-)

Artwork Comments

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