Return to Backi Petrovec

A land of belonging which speaks of forgetting. This small community of Slovaks in northern Serbia is the biggest of its kind in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. These still collections constitute a parallel to a short documentary film in the making. They work as support, research, and capture the character this place carries with it. This was a time for seizing an instant of identity where identity is  tangled within itself. It is here that my trips to Serbia have been directed. As though drawn back each time by a similar family obligation, or a magnetic attraction to a priceless story, I have continued to search for what is has to tell. 

Also see An Instant of Non-Existence, An artist book based on the photography taken in Backi Petrovec in 2014. 

The pillars

On this fourth voyage, I was also grabbing on to the reasons for my return. But as I enter cafes and bars which are the pillars of the community, I see the change. Even over the last year, things have slowly ebbed away. The theater being the center of this small town, the club which resides above it used to be bustling with customers every night. An entire generation had worked there, each in turn. Now the bar is only open among friends, I an other one, the old TV has been replaced by a flat screen.  There is still the pool table, but the faces around it have changed. I see now why I take these photos. Because the beaded curtain remains, because the same friend serves behind the bar, because they still get up on stage and act. 

Serbia, 2018, Nikon Fm2

The house

Then there are the things that do not change. The places which just catch dust, where the pictures on the shelves don't move, and the cups still hang under the photo of the father. Absent, in Slovakia, because pay is better there. in between each of his visits, like mine, what changes the most is the sheets. 

Serbia, 2018, Nikon Fm2

The friends

Now the drunken nights have grown less frequent. Some have become attached to other things. They have friends with children too, and on some afternoons, they all go to the river bank. They bring corn and bear and the baby. 

Serbia, 2018, Nikon Fm2

The cracks

What used to touch me the most were the crackled sidewalks. The wrinkles in the sidewalk. They are witnesses to the imperfectness of it all. That which makes it great. Down the main street some of the old abandoned buildings are now being rebuilt. In other places, when we walk a long way out of town, new building are boarded up. 

Serbia, 2018, Nikon Fm2

2014

The Name day

This collection gives the smokey smell of a name day celebration. one of the more traditional sides kept by the community. Everyone gathering around a cauldron for a whole day celebrating a name.

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

Even the walls speak of smoke

We live out of the pubs and bars, the smoke and crumbling walls. please drink the end of the day away. It is from behind these curtains that we hear the stories.

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

It is in the emptiness we keep the life

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

Between them, the river wept

The Dunau crosses and carries Petrovec. Legends give it a life at the crossing of the waters. Some remember and others hardly. It is difficult to witness forgetting.

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

Once I rode from Backi Petrovec to Backi Petrovec.

From the flat land to the flat land.

Vojvodina is the region of Novi Sad, where Backi Petrovec is contained. It lives between the fields and once you leave the bigger Serbian town you see only horizon. They are cultivating the land like every other village around, only they are Slovaks. You enter their flat land and you are in a territory inside a territory.

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

The sound of cigarettes in silence

It is with silence that I sit, accompanied. Without language sometimes there is just something to hold, something to see, something to drink. Something to bring us to a table and be. 

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

The Patchwork

 

Generations. Dead. Alive. Dying. Sowly. 

Leaving clews behind. 

Vanishing into smoke.  

Serbia, 2014, Olympus OM 2

  © 2016 Hannah Papacek Harper