As I open my suitcase, the stench of burned brown coal stings the inside of my nose, evoking good memories of a trip that was over much too soon. The glint in the eye of the many Protagonist’s open faces I stared into, stare back at me, in my mind’s eye, every time I blink. Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country, has me under her spell.
We were there five days, and covered a lot of stories. The writer, Lea Gnos, and I had our hands full.
The story we went to cover was about the so called mass exodus of an estimated 10% of the Kosovar population in a matter of 3 months. We wanted to know why this was happening, what the people leaving were expecting, and what the people staying thought about this.
Photographically this story was challenging because I wanted to take as little gear with me as possible, in case we decided to try to hop on a bus and make the trip with the economic refugees.
In the end we decided against doing this for several reasons. We were about two weeks late for the frenzied scenes at the bus stations, and even with the current situation, it may have been too dangerous for us, as well as risky for the refugees, due to the ever present traffickers. A retired Imam I met in one of the mosques of Pristina told me that human traffickers from the white slavery and organ trade were behind facilitating many of the trips to the EU. He thought that the organisation was too good to spontaneously get so many people to leave. He also thought that the Serbians were behind this, because it was very easy to leave Kosovo through Serbia, but almost impossible to reenter, unless their paperwork was immaculate. Essentially, he said, this was ethnic cleansing.
I was unable to get to the bottom of this question, but the conspiracy theories I came across ranged from plausible to bat-shit crazy.
If you do the math conservatively 100,000 refugees each paying 500 Euro ( the price can be much higher) means that revenue of 50,000,000 Euro was generated in 3 months from the traffickers' fees alone. That is a lot of money anywhere, but in a region where a waiter in a restaurant earns 350 Euro per month if he is lucky. This is unimaginably huge money. It can be assumed that this situation is rife with people willing to take advantage.
I feel the Sony A7ii is coming in to its own. Many of the images from this trip that I love, were shot with it. The 85mm Ai-S dosn't hurt either. It is a kick ass lens!
My primary camera was still the D800E. It's a matter of speed. Using manual focus lenses along with a small body is a different way of shooting. Due to this method being slower I need much more cooperation from the person being photographed. This can translate in a deeper interaction between the protagonist and me. A mentor of mine once yelled at me when I told him about how many frames per second some camera that just came out could shoot. He was incensed. He asked " do you want to shoot a fucking movie, or take photographs?!". With that being said, I can tell you that it takes a different intention and commitment to shoot manually. And yes, I want to make Photographs!
This will be a series that will be published over the course of a week.
I hope to post a tear sheet as well as some images as they are published, so come back for updates if you like this sort of thing.