ANDREW QUERNER, The Bread With Honey
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff
February 4 to April 1, 2012
By Jill Sawyer
The conflict in the Balkans was recent enough that most people can recall images from it, though even while it was unfolding it seemed exceptionally distant and foreign. But since then, it’s completely disappeared from the public consciousness, almost a complete media blackout. When Canmore-based photographer Andrew Querner returned to Kosovo in 2010 for a project, he was constantly aware of a sense that the world had moved on, leaving a region still split by poverty and psychological scars. “Everyone’s seen the war pictures,” he says. “Nobody’s really seen pictures of people there just living their lives.”
The result of his journey is The Bread With Honey, Querner’s series of Kosovo portraits, shot on that trip, his second to the region. “It was my first experience of hearing people my age talking about a war,” he says.
He had travelled to the region a couple of years before, moving around and capturing portraits, seeing remnants of the heavy conflict years, but not finding a specific story. As he had done with earlier projects, he wanted to find people and places that were representative of what was happening in the region as a whole.
On the advice of his translator, Querner travelled to the town of Trepca, where a Soviet-era mine, fallen into deep disrepair, is the only significant employer around. When the mine, which produces minerals including gold, zinc, and lead, was built as part of the former Yugoslavia, more than 2,000 miners worked there, and the town grew to be relatively prosperous. Through the conflict, it fell into Serbian hands, and is now kept alive by a handful of Albanian miners whose families live in the small houses lining the surrounding hills. “Looking at the history of the mine, it closely mirrors the trajectory of the country,” Querner says. “Whoever is in power is running the mine.”
The economic desperation is plainly seen in the faces of Querner’s subjects — not just the miners, but the townspeople surrounding them. In fact, many of the scenes inside the mine could have been shot in almost any other hardrock mining environment. Pulling back to take in the desolate streets and sparsely furnished living rooms of Trepca, the story becomes more focused.
This subject has a deep meaning for Querner as an artist and photographer. He’s drawn to out-of-the-way places and hidden subcultures, though he acknowledges that even immersing himself in a community for a few weeks, he’s only scratching the surface, and capturing a veneer of truth. “This obviously leaves out the whole Serbian perspective,” he says, of the Kosovo pictures. He likes to go where media cameras don’t make it — outlying coastal Newfoundland, a current project that’s taken him into rural Montana — and find a storyline when he gets there. “I’m an outsider, visiting for a month,” he says. “This is my interpretation.”
Originally from Vancouver, Querner moved to Canmore in 2000 originally to build a reputation as a sport photographer in climbing. In that time, in addition to working as a climbing photographer, he’s accumulated an impressive record in editorial photography — working for magazines including Report on Business, ESPN, Alpinist, Outside, Time, and the Saturday Telegraph Magazine.
The Bread With Honey will be exhibited as part of Exposure 2012, the Calgary Banff Canmore Photography Festival.