10 minutes with Andrew Querner
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
To be honest I cannot remember having a moment of realization. Although I very much grew up with photography in my life- my father was a serious amateur- I did not give it much thought until well into my university years. If anything, it came about as an afterthought. As an aspiring rock climber I was experiencing the natural world and athletics coming together in a way that I never dreamed possible. I was so moved by my experiences on the rock that I started photographing the sport and at some point the goal of making a good picture surpassed any athletic ambitions. The reversal in priorities was the first real indication that photography was important to me.
Tell me about your project, the Bread with Honey – Its a pretty incredible body of work. How did you get the idea for it and how long did you spend working on it?
Thanks very much, Kate. Exactly one year ago a friend of mine shared a paper with me that he wrote for one of his masters courses. It touched on an interesting phenomenon that was happening in certain parts of Kosovo. An ancient Albanian code of law called the Kanun of Lek Dukagini, most widely known for its espousal of revenge killings to settle disputes of honor, was experiencing a resurgence, leading to the phenomenon of blood feuds. For many reasons, I thought this was interesting and relevant so I went. But once on the ground, the subject proved to be elusive and in retrospect I was naive in thinking that I could waltz in and expect to find it laying on the surface. Lesson learned. The day before boarding a plane back to Canada, a friend I met named Luli thought I might be interested in checking out a little mining town called Trepca- the town that figures in The Bread With Honey. The brief visit gave me a feeling that this community and the mine below it might be a metaphor through which I could begin to explore the complex issues coursing through the nation’s veins. At home, I began to research and prepare for my eventual return.
While Kosovo did achieve independence in 2008, a bleak economic outlook combined with ongoing political tensions with Serbia leaves a lot of big questions unanswered. Yet, an undercurrent of hope that things will improve persists. As an outsider this hope seems somewhat blind but I have to remind myself that things were much, much worse in the 1990s (due to Milosevic era oppression). Now, the country enjoys a degree of freedom but I also sense a level of frustration that life isn’t improving faster than it is. The neglected Stan Terg mine which I focus on in the project solicits a similar duality as it could well hold the key to a more prosperous future but remains, sadly, mired in politics.
To answer the last part of your question, I spent three weeks shooting this past February and March. I don’t consider it finished. It’s a matter of raising funds and finding the time to keep going on it.
What have you found to be the most surprising aspect of being a photographer?
We seem to live in a society that for the most part, lives life in private. Photographers are often greeted with suspicion. But only since becoming a photographer have I realized that despite all of that, if one asks nicely and shows genuine interest, people are amazingly responsive, sometimes going to great lengths to invite you into their life. In this age of suspicion, I find this so encouraging and I suppose surprising.
If you had an hour with any living person, in any location, who and where would it be?
If I had a list of such things (I don’t) “Cormac McCarthy at home” might be on there. Broadly speaking, my dream subject is probably someone who doesn’t even realize why a photographer would be interested in photographing him/her but nonetheless remains open to the idea, is willing to take a risk, is willing to share a small bit of photographic intimacy for no apparent gain. It doesn’t really matter to me where this occurred.
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
The Bread With Honey is something I’d like to continue working on. I want to share the work a bit and get some feed back before making another visit. The idea of collaborating with a writer is also appealing and perhaps essential to the proper telling of the story.
(Andrew is based in Alberta, Canada. See more of his work, here)