The Master and His Camera

Joco Žnidaršič: Tito and the Camera

The Master and His Camera

Joco Žnidaršič: Tito and the Camera

Tito and the Camera exhibition view, Galerija Fotografija, 2020. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija.

Among older generations within the territory of former Yugoslavia, May 25th is still remembered as Youth Day; the holiday that once marked the birthday of the federation’s life-long leader, Marshal Tito. An exhibition of Tito as a photographer by his personal photographer Joco Žnidaršič opened on May 25th, 2020 at Galerija Fotografija in Ljubljana – incidentally, just a few kilometres away from the hospital where Tito had died exactly four decades ago on May 4, 1980.

Tito and the Camera exhibition view, Galerija Fotografija, 2020. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija.
Tito and the Camera exhibition view, Galerija Fotografija, 2020. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija.

Žnidaršič first began taking photos for publications (Tribuna, TT, Tovariš) while working towards a degree in medicine – at the time, it was something that he planned to do for a little while in order to recover financially before commencing his work as a physician. Employed by the leading Slovene newspaper Delo from 1974 onwards, he began considering photography as a serious occupation when the newspaper’s usual choice for Tito’s photographer had fallen ill and thus couldn’t document marshal’s visit to the village of Predoslje in the Upper Carniola region of Slovenia. Žnidaršič was sent instead and Tito as well as other members of the highest political circles took an immense liking to his work. He maintained the honourable capacity of Tito’s official photographer until the leader’s death. All images in the exhibition date back to the second half of the seventies and thus depict Tito as an already established international figure. His later years were marked by frequent diplomatic visits to “fellow” countries – having founded the Non-Aligned Movement in the sixties, Tito was greeted with much enthusiasm and venerated in places like Egypt, Indonesia, Sri Lanka. By mid-seventies, his reign in Yugoslavia had already stretched three decades (and was officially extended for life) in which time he had transformed from a war hero into an emblematic figure seemingly more and more inseparable from the federation and its ideological pillars – something that has sadly proven true in the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars. 

Joco Žnidaršič, Tito visiting The Great Wall of China, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito visiting The Great Wall of China, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Planica, 1969. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Planica, 1969. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Dražgoše, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Dražgoše, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič

Tito and the Camera was not intended by its author as a distinct series at the time when the images were made. Rather, the curator Hana Čeferin, the gallery director Barbara Čeferin, and Joco Žnidaršič himself (now roughly the same age as Tito was in the photos), put together an exhibition that is as much about politics as it is about the photographic medium and as much about Joco Žnidaršič as a photographer as it is about Tito as a photographer (even though a single image actually shot by Tito was exhibited). Contrary to what may be surmised before seeing the exhibition, the spectator is not confronted with images of an ignorant master who happens to get caught during his everyday preoccupations, nor are the photos the much impoverished result of heavy censorship (Žnidaršič claims to have always had the discretion to choose which photographs of Tito to use – this doesn’t signify, however, that censorship wasn’t internalised). 

Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Dražgoše, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Dražgoše, 1977. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Lisca, 1974. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito in Lisca, 1974. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič

Nearly all images convey the impression of “behind the scenes” footage, although they are very much on the scene. Such is the photographic manner or style of Joco Žnidaršič, which can be described with much of the same attributes as Joco Žnidaršič, the person: admittedly apolitical, ludist, hedonist, anecdotal, lucid and cheeky. One must remain careful, though, not to be fooled by supposing this is not political propaganda – in fact, it is the most efficient kind. Not only do people in the photos act like they are genuinely enjoying themselves, but they are genuinely enjoying themselves. The persuasiveness of these images is dependent on the photographer’s distinctive choices: Joco Žnidaršič, like many masters of the medium, did not wait for his subject to be ready, as this would mean accepting the servile position of the one who resigns to technically operating the camera, but foregoes the power to decide. The ability to decide is already the ability to defy anticipation. Žnidaršič did not choose the perfect moments of stillness. Rather than making acceptable photographs, he looked for compelling moments, actuality, surprises.

Joco Žnidaršič, Tito. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič
Joco Žnidaršič, Tito. Courtesy of Galerija Fotografija. © Joco Žnidaršič

Žnidaršič’s images suggest that Tito had made little or no effort to conceal his amusement with the medium. Furthermore, Tito’s relaxed manner towards the camera can also be seen as frank admission of the ruling regime that the photographs are indeed made and constructed rather than being a neutral documentation of reality – both an affirmation of the photograph’s ontological status as well as an undermining of its authority in regard to its truth value: the depictions may indeed be flawed to the degree that one may even appear goofy, but coincidentally there is also someone to blame. That someone must have a name, a face. In the case of Josip Broz and Joco Žnidaršič, we couldn’t wish for a more direct proof of this dynamic as the man behind the camera is captured by the master himself. 

Joco Žnidaršič: Tito and the Camera
Galerija Fotografija
25 May–26 June 2020

Tito’s relaxed manner towards the camera can also be seen as frank admission of the ruling regime that the photographs are indeed made and constructed rather than being a neutral documentation of reality.

Joco Žnidaršič: Tito and the Camera
Galerija Fotografija
25 May–26 June 2020

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