Portraits of the Mediterranean
Croatia: a place of never-ending parties, crystal clear waters and bright blue skies. Little fisherman towns become playgrounds for rich tourists, only to be left quiet once September ends. But what happens to those who stay? These real faces of the Croatian coast remind us that, once the tourist frenzy is over, the Mediterranean will be left to its local people.
Photographer, an anthropologist, and a filmmaker, Deana Kotiga shares with us her latest photo series 'Portraits of the Mediterranean', an attempt to dive deeper into the myth of her homeland. Fusing the three roles of her background together, Deana depicts culture, communities, and people's stories into a body of work which uplifts the local cultural narrative of the Mediterranean away from its traditional tourist image.
We sit down and chat to Deana about 'Portraits of the Mediterranean' (which were all taken oh iPhone), and how travel has influenced her creativity.
Where in the Mediterranean were these photos taken?
Most of them were taken in Velka Luka, a town on the island of Korcula, and in Komiza, a town on the island of Vis, in Croatia. I grew up in Istra, a Croatian peninsula situated on the north of its coast. Even though I grew up in Motovun, my family always spent summers in Porec. The Mediterranean is my home, and I really did have a fairy-tale childhood.
I moved to London when I was 18, and have since lived in California and Brazil. When Covid-19 hit, I went back to be with my family - and this provided me with a brilliant opportunity to re-experience the Mediterranean. So this project was my own experiment of going back to places I usually found so familiar, so ordinary to now see them in a new light.
What was the reason for the trip?
My dad’s mum, my nonna, moved from Korcula to Istra when she was 15. She fell in love with my grandad who was serving in the marines there and followed him back. My nonno died suddenly, a short while after they came back to Istra. He went for a swim, suffered a heart attack and that was it. My nonna remarried, and had a happy marriage. She only went back to Korcula a handful of times, and she rarely spoke of her life on the island.
I wanted to go to Korcula with her. I wanted to get to know that part of her life, but she didn’t want to come with me. I went with my dad in March 2021, and when I came back, I went to hers to show her the photos, and speak about the people I met. She died, suddenly, only 5 months after, and I feel very grateful and lucky I got to do this trip, albeit without her, while she was still alive. To Komiza, where the rest of the photos were taken, I went because I fell utterly in love with the place back in 2017. It is one of my favourite places in the whole world.
How would you describe the Mediterranean to someone who’s never been?
I always tell my friends who visit me to take everything they might need when they leave the house, even if they think they might be just popping down to the local shop to get a loaf of bread. The Mediterranean is a kind of a place where you’ll leave your house at 9AM in the morning for a quick swim, and you’ll come back 3 days afterwards having been wild camping on an abandoned island. The time functions in another dimension: the coffees are long, life is really loved and love, and people are more than usual late.
It is chaos embodied, there’s nothing like it and that’s why I love it.
What would you say this project was about?
My elevator pitch would be: Portraits of the Mediterranean are an attempt to dive deeper into the myth of her homeland. Croatia: a place of never-ending parties, crystal clear waters and bright blue skies. Little fisherman towns become playgrounds for rich tourists, only to be left quiet once September ends. But what happens to those who stay? These real faces of the Croatian coast remind us that, once the tourist frenzy is over, the Mediterranean will be left to its local people.
Croatia screams holiday. Its coast is slowly turning into a playground for tourists who tend to forget about it’s past [the war was fought on some of these islands a mere 30 years ago, not many know Dubrovnik was bombed and almost razed to the ground], the lives, the stories… and I hope this project brings a face and complexity to otherwise simplified holiday destination.
I met many amazing people on both of these islands. In Vela Luka, because my uncle was introducing me to pretty much everyone under the sun, and in Komiza because Croats are generally open & friendly.
This one man who I met really stuck with me. He took his teeth out and told me he lost his teeth in the war. I’m not going to go into the details of the atrocities he told me about, but he said he forgave all the soldiers he encountered. This happened a mere 30 years ago - it blows my mind how resilient people are.
What was the best thing you ate / saw / experienced on the trip?
One day, we decided to climb the hill where the marine’s fort was. That was where the marines were living while they were serving the army. Bear in mind, my dad doesn’t know much about his dad - and there we are, going to a place where my grandad used to live for a couple of years.
We’re exploring this old fort, and then, all of a sudden, I find my surname engraved into a wall. “Kotiga”. I know it sounds deep, but I started crying - it was so incredible to realize somebody who came before me, somebody without whom I would have not been on this earth, was there, at that same spot, in 1956, engraving his surname into the wall. And there I was, 44 years later, reading it. Without having known the man at all.
It was surreal.
What’s in your camera collection?
I think it is super important that I say all of the photos in this series were taken on an iPhone. I think photography can have an unfortunate tendency to be elitist, especially when it comes to owning a specific kind of, usually expensive, equipment.
I really do believe you never actually take a photo of a subject but rather of the relationship you as a photographer have with that subject - so the trick doesn't lie with the equipment but within you as a photographer.
I do have to admit, though, I prefer shooting on film. There is something romantic about working with an alive thing - something that literally needs light to come into being. There is depth to analogue photos which you can never replicate on digitals, and I find I am much more concentrated, I think about the composition, the light, the process itself becomes a piece of art.
Why do you travel, what does it mean for you?
It is so humbling to experience different ways of existing in this world, to be let into other people’s worlds through listening to them and their life stories. Living in any big city, especially London, makes you forget there is a big and beautiful world out there - so I travel to remember.
What are your must see’s & do’s when trippin?
I'm a trained anthropologist, and anthropology is what I do for my day job - so obviously, when travelling, I love getting to understand the local scene. That’s why I don’t really travel quickly, I love spending prolonged periods of time in a place. Food - music - dance - culture. A fishing trip with some locals. Trying to learn some basic words & sentences, if I don’t already speak the language. What I LOVE, though, is hanging out with the oldies. They always have brilliant stories, and are often not really listened to anymore - so you’ll find some real amazing gems if you just sit down with them.
Apart from phone and passport, what are your travel essentials?
A camera, obviously. A good notebook to write down things I might want to remember. I am an avid reader, but I actually rarely read when I travel. It’s probably because I’m constantly processing the novelty of the life around me, so I don’t feel the need to dive into another world.
In the mix or off grid?
Ah, difficult one, the 18 year old me who was growing up in a picturesque Croatian village would definitely have said in the mix - but after years of living in London I would choose off the grid now.