This is the back of a family photo, stamped on January 26th, 1967. It is a studio photograph, with a stamp that reads Foto VERONIK J., Radlje ob Dravi, and the date. Radlje ob Dravi is a small town in Slovenia of which I know next to nothing. I was born in another small Slovenian town not far away from Radlje ob Dravi, but my family moved to Sarajevo when I was 4. I have no friends in Radlje, I trace no memories of Slovenia, and, strangely, I have never gone back to visit. Looking now at this photograph, more than 40 years later, I can’t help but wonder what may have happened to this studio. Who is J. Veronik? Have the studio and its image archives survived the last 40 years? Is the photographer still alive? Any story?
When I first posted the story above, on the previous incarnation of this blog, a reader sent me the following note:
“Hello, I am from Radlje ob Dravi and I’ve lived here for 30 years. I knew this man – J.Veronik. I passed his house on my way from home. He had a small studio in Radlje right next to our church. He died about 10 years ago. I don’t think there is any archive of his photos. His grandson (my friend) is reconstructing this house right now. I can ask him for more details.”
And he did. David Cigler, an accidental reader of my blog, went on to inquire about the destiny of the photographer’s archives and even took some pictures of Radlje ob Dravi for me. So, I learned that the photographer’s name was Josef Veronik and he had lived to be 92 years old before he passed away in 1998. If he had never moved out of Radlje during his lifetime Josef would have lived as a subject under the Austro-Hungarian Empire followed by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, then SFR Yugoslavia, and finally the Republic of Slovenia. And we shouldn’t forget that Nazi Germany occupied this place for at least 4 years. No photographic archive from his studio has survived to this day.
Not long ago, on The Online Photographer, I read a story about Voja Mitrović, the great printer of some great photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka (another Josef born in the lands under the Austro-Hungarian rule) being the most notable. While what Voja’s story tells is very interesting, there is also an untold story in there, mentioned only briefly, of which I keep thinking: the story about a 1950s local photographer in Foča, a small town in eastern Bosnia, named Radmilo Mazić:
“Voja was born in Foča, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, part of the former Yugoslavia, in 1937. His father was killed during the war when he was four years old, and from this early age, he became aware that he would have to work to help his mother and family. He came to photography by accident—his family had a cow, and daily he would deliver a liter of milk to the house of a local photographer named Radmilo Mazić. One day this photographer asked Voja’s mother if her son would like to be his photographic apprentice. In Sept., 1953, Voja began to work as Mazić’ apprentice. Mazić had studied photography at a school in Zagreb with teachers from the Ecole de Graphisme of Vienna.”
I passed through Foča some years ago and, though situated in a gorgeous natural setting, it was the most depressing little town imaginable. It’s full of scars from the latest war episode in which some locals had enthusiastically killed, raped and sent to refuge their Muslim neighbors. I can only imagine what kind of impression Foča of the early 1950s would leave on a visitor, as even a smaller town recovering from the previous war episode, which hadn’t lacked in atrocity either. But in the 1950s Foča there lived and worked a photographer by the name of Radmilo Mazić who had studied photography in Zagreb under the teachers from the Ecole de Graphisme of Vienna!
I would love to see Mazić’s portraits from the 1950s Foča even more than to hold Voja’s prints, but I don’t believe the archive of his work could have possibly survive all this time. I am pretty sure I will never really know much about Radmilo Mazić and his work, and I wonder how many small town photographers’ archives and how many photographed faces may have simply disappeared in the last few decades, never to be seen again.