L.A. Magazine: "The Last Romantic: Nature Meets Art in the Stunning Photos of Harun Mehmedinovic" by Harun Mehmedinovic


The Last Romantic: Nature Meets Art in the Stunning Photos of Harun Mehmedinović murielle3c

With Bloodhoney* the photographer shatters the monotony of everyday life and tempts fate as a matter of principle.

by Theis Duelund

Growing up in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, Harun Mehmedinović and his friends often made a game of daring each other to run across the wide empty boulevards known as “sniper alleys.” “I lost friends that way,” says Mehmedinović. “But as terrible and irrational as it sounds, it helped us stay sane. It was a way of rebelling against what was happening and trying to live in the moment.”

A desire to escape the horrors of routine has shaped the 31-year-old filmmaker and photographer’s Bloodhoney* project, a series of portraits featuring Mehmedinović’s friends posed against stunning vistas in the great American landscape. Mehmedinović, who divides his time between Los Angeles and Flagstaff, where he teaches photography and film at Northern Arizona University, decided to compile the images in a coffee table book. The first title, Séance, came out earlier this year after one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. The next book, Persona, will be out in August 2014.

“Whenever I visited my friends they complained about how their adult lives were chained to routine,” Mehmedinović says. “I suggested a photo shoot in which the setting would be determined by whoever I was shooting. They picked a location and I just went along with it.” Last April, Mehmedinović discussed his work in a TEDx talk, "Living in the Moment," at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Bloodhoney*, the literal translation of the Turkish word “Balkan,” is about breaking free of self-imposed restrictions and being present in the now. The subjects sometimes wear beautiful gowns, in other cases they're completely naked. The models themselves, however, aren’t the most transfixing element of Mehmedinović’s images; instead, the viewer’s gaze is drawn to the compositional harmony between subject and nature. In one shot, a woman in a white dress is enveloped by a blizzard, her ghostly figure the focal point in a wintry landscape. Another shows a woman standing on a rock in the surf, her stance recalling a figure in one of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's works, which often depict a lone man contemplating his smallness in the face of nature.

To call Mehmedinović a Romantic isn’t inaccurate; like the nineteenth-century artists and writers (Byron and Goethe among them) who fled civilization and embraced nature in search of a more authentic life, he has spent much of his time looking for new ways to connect with his surroundings. As a student at UCLA, he often took solitary road trips across the country, stopping only when the environment beckoned. “In Oklahoma I once saw a tornado up close. It was a surreal image. Looking in one direction the sky was clear and the sun was shining. When I turned my head, I saw a tornado come barreling across the flat land.” Mehmedinović stopped his car and got out his camera. “It was dangerous, but I just found it so appealing to entirely disconnect from being a modern human being.”

Abandoning the structures of everyday life has been transformative for Mehmedinović and his subjects. “We did a shoot in an old bunker in Virginia, close to Mount Vernon," he says. "I asked the model if she had any dilemmas in her life, and she explained that she had married a man she didn’t love in deference to her parents. She said it was like being a prisoner in her own body.” The bunker, which had previously been occupied by squatters, was filthy and reeked of human waste. “When the model saw it she said, ‘I love it. I want to do the shoot naked,’” Mehmedinović says. “When I saw the photos afterwards, I understood. That space perfectly expressed how she felt about her marriage.”

Another shoot involved venturing out onto the ice of Boston’s frozen Charles River. “When we got back to shore I threw a rock and it crashed right through the ice,” Mehmedinović says. “People watching us probably thought we were insane, but it was quite beautiful, one of those rare moments where you’re able to completely take your life into your own hands.”

While Séance focused on the process itself—following the models around for hours at a time, allowing them space to find themselves in front of the camera—the second book, Persona, will center on how Mehmedinović’s subjects perform their own identities. “I would ask the models to come as they were but many showed up in a favorite dress or other items that functioned as a kind of mask,” he explains. “I found this layer interesting and decided to focus on it.”

The beauty of impulse is the organizing principle for Mehmedinović’s work. “People are miserable because they never get a chance to show who they are,” he says. “You have to be able to lose yourself sometimes and forget about time and all the other things that order your life. You have to embrace chaos.”

You can read the full article at:

The Huffington Post profiles the Bloodhoney* Project by Harun Mehmedinovic

by Michael Juliani The Huffington Post: Photographer Harun Mehmedinovic Seeks the Sublime With Bloodhoney* Book Project

For 60 days, the photographer Harun Mehmedinovic is focusing on his Kickstarter campaign and not much else. He usually doesn't sleep much anyway, a habit he's had since moving to the United States at 13 after surviving four years of the Bosnian War. Living in Flagstaff, Arizona, teaching film and photography at Northern Arizona University, he spends most of his days sending messages to hundreds of people, asking them to pledge to buy something from his campaign to fund the printing of his second book, Persona. Most people don't respond.

There are misconceptions about contributing to a Kickstarter campaign, that it's like donating to a cause. And because you're buying a product directly from the person who made it, there's an anxiety about his self-indulgence. The price that Harun set for the reward of one digital copy of the book and one print copy ($50) is likely less than what it'll eventually be sold for in a bookstore. The minimum monetary goal for funding his project, $20,000, actually lies much lower than what he hopes to make, about $35,000. Whenever people contribute, Harun thanks them publicly on his Facebook, always adding the link to the Kickstarter page.

I'm part of Harun's project. After I wrote an article about him for the Los Angeles Times in May 2012, we kept in touch and worked together on a photo and text essay about rites of passage for an issue of Blindfold Magazine. He decided to launch a series of books about his photography project, Bloodhoney*. He asked me to edit the text that would accompany his images. Through Kickstarter Harun was able to fund the limited printing of his first book, Séance. This September he distributed print copies to those who had backed the project while simultaneously launching the second Kickstarter, for Persona.


Harun and I first met because of his father's writing. I had been reading the book Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard all fall of my junior year in college. A smattering of poems, short stories, monologues and dialogues, it unlocked a certain vault of my subconscious. It seemed so personal that I thought it must not exist for anyone else. In an interview I found, Shepard was asked about other writers he admired. He mentioned Semezdin Mehmedinovic, who he said was Serbian, and had written a book called Sarajevo Blues:

"He accomplished the kind of book I've always tried to do and haven't totally succeeded at, which is a combination of poetry, prose, short stories, diary, all thrown into one thing. I love that form. He actually managed to do it with Sarajevo Blues. During that horrible conflict he chose to stay there in the city. He had a wife and kids and decided to stick it out. It's an amazing account of a writer under fire."

Enough said. I went online and ordered the thing after learning that no local bookstores had it in stock. Rooted in Mehmedinovic's reading of translations of American literature, including Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues and, yes, Shepard's Motel Chronicles, Sarajevo Blues collects dispatches from a shattered world, Sarajevo during the city's four-year siege in the Bosnian War. In fact, Mehmedinovic decided to stay in Sarajevo with his wife Sanja and nine-year-old son Harun (they were not, as Shepard thought, Serbian).

When I read Sarajevo Blues for the first time, it was 2012. I wondered what had happened to the Mehmedinovic family, who had supposedly come to the United States. Through Google I learned that Semezdin's son, Harun, who made poignant appearances in Sarajevo Blues, including a scene where Semezdin finds gray hairs in the 10-year-old boy's head, had attended UCLA film school and the American Film Institute. He had made a short film about the Bosnian War and was now in the middle of a photography project called Bloodhoney*. He was on Facebook and was now 29 and living in Los Angeles like me. I was taking a feature writing class for school at the time and needed a story to tell. I wrote Harun an email.

We met up at a Brazilian restaurant in Culver City. I brought Harun's father's books with me along with notepad and tape recorder. Dressed in black with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder, Harun was tall and lanky with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. I had never known anyone who had survived a war, never mind one where children were prime targets for snipers. To rebel against the most terrifying aspect of the war, Harun and his friends used to tempt the snipers by running across streets where bullets often flew. They'd play rock-paper-scissors for who could go first, when the sniper wasn't paying attention. The others would follow. Though many kids died playing this game, Harun told me that such rebellion against the status quo of fear was necessary to keep sane.

At the Brazilian restaurant, we ate and talked for four hours, till the waiters locked us out.

Harun's photography project proved to be about more than capturing the saturated, incandescent beauty I'd seen in shots posted on his website. At dinner Harun explained that his project was rooted in the sense of adrenaline he'd had as a kid during the war, amidst the collapse of the social fabric. He had spent his adolescence in Phoenix and then in Alexandria, Virginia, and he had been lonely, angry, and frustrated by his inability to match the primacy of the war zone. In school he argued with teachers, got in fights, and kept to himself, watching films and planning his own path to Hollywood.


After some success with his short film, In the Name of the Son, Harun kept crisscrossing the country, traveling ceaselessly as he'd done since landing in the United States, taking pictures of landscapes and skies. In his mid-twenties he found himself more cooped up than usual, reading lots of articles on the Internet, working on film scripts, realizing that he'd worked himself into an uncomfortable isolation. On the film festival circuit he reconnected with friends from college who were broken down by nine-to-five jobs.

Over a series of hours-long interviews I did with Harun in March and April 2012, I began to see how he had combined his filmmaker's sense of vision and intellectual grasp of philosophical sources like Joseph Campbell and Rumi with a deep personal need to re-connect with the end-of-the-world adrenaline of those four years of his youth. Realizing that a film project would be too difficult to manage, Harun grabbed his camera and asked friends to pick any location they wanted and any clothing they wanted. He would follow them for up to 15 hours straight, giving time and space for them to dissolve the anxieties of their day-to-day lives. After doing dozens of these shoots all over the continent, he could pinpoint certain series and images that had captured some sublime quality reminiscent of the open-world beauty present in chaos.

In the United States, stability is often promoted as wellbeing. The privilege of being able to live mostly free from violence and societal chaos allows people to rest on what they have. There are rarely opportunities to challenge this way of life unless a person faces himself and breaks down some very tense barriers. Even though I hungered to break down my own walls, I intrinsically feared the ardor and instability it would require, even for just 10 hours. When I interviewed a handful of people who had been subjects of Harun's shoots, I heard about the difficulty some had had becoming vulnerable. Some even recalled specific images that cropped up: the bar scene, their families, the clothes they wear to work.

One of my favorite passages from Séance was the story of a 21-year-old woman named Bri.

When Harun got in touch with Bri, I remember him telling me that her parents had grounded her. "She's 21!" he exclaimed. "How do you ground someone who's 21?" Wholeheartedly in love with and in need of dance in her life, Bri's passion had interfered with her family's hopes for her future. She told Harun about having to hide her dancing, containing it to private moments in front of the bathroom mirror and even on her way to school, where she was free to act as she pleased. The first shoot Harun did with her was in a lake, where she contorted her body as if moving to music. A far-off kayaker sat and watched, and when the shoot wrapped the kayaker applauded.

I could tell that Harun cared a lot about Bri's story. Bri was a free spirit trapped by her circumstances, by a situation that continued to deprive her of control. Even though their backstories were so different, and even though the plight of an American millennial seems to pale in urgency compared to a refugee's, I could see the frustrated child in Harun connecting with Bri's desire to break free. At the root, they had known the same frustration, and their acts of rebellion were identical if not exactly in scale.

"In America, you are taught to fear and obey, same as in any other place," Harun told me. "My rebellion was against fear and so is theirs. They are, in essence, afraid to live. The sniper bit is a thing a child would do, and in itself it means keeping the youth alive. For most people, that experience on the shoots is about childhood, literally. They become children again. It means that certain fears just slowly vanish."

Persona will focus on a specific element of the project: some people show up to shoots dressed as a sort of character. This element bothered Harun at first, begging him to wonder whether the characters represented a more authentic representation or a retreat from who the people really are. Harun said, "Let's face it; we all wear masks every day. We probably wear a different mask for every person we meet. We probably wear a mask for every place we go. Very rarely do we share with others who we really are. Very rarely do we feel confident and courageous enough to just be ourselves." The book will explore the shoots where this was relevant, providing details from the lives of the people involved.


I have yet to experience a shoot--we've made plans, but Harun's travels are so impulsive that he's often only in town somewhere for a night or a couple of days. I've realized that the deeper I become entrenched in Harun's perspective on the world, the more I benefit from it. For awhile, before I knew him, and when I was getting to know him, I still felt like his frame of reference wasn't so foreign to me, even though he had survived one of the most drastic wars in recent history.

I think, more than anything, the Bloodhoney* project offers people the chance to have a transcendental experience. The name itself refers to the word "Balkan," a combination of the Turkish words for "blood" and "honey." Harun said that if you are living a full life, it will be bittersweet. You will be feeling the good things and the bad things, and you will have escaped the monotonous gray area where nothing is felt at all.

Having found an outlet during the war, Harun found that vein again here, where rebellion against the status quo isn't as easily pronounced. And instead of coveting it, he offers it to anyone who has a free day, some favorite clothing, and an ideal location in mind.

The Huffington Post: Photographer Harun Mehmedinovic Seeks the Sublime With Bloodhoney* Book Project

Cinema Without Borders interviews Harun Mehmedinovic by Harun Mehmedinovic

Harun Mehmedinovic by Sanja Lukac

A filmmaker by trade, Harun Mehmedinovic took up photography as a hobby during his road trips across America. Years later, his project “Bloodhoney*” became one of the most successful Kick starter photography campaigns of all time. Harun’s photographs have been featured by major publications, including Vogue Italia and the Los Angeles Times. Prior to his venture into professional photography, Harun’s film “In the Name of the Son” premiered at Telluride Film Festival and won over thirty international awards including Shanghai, Savannah, and Cleveland film festivals. It was the first live action short film to receive an exclusive screening for the members of United States congress on Capitol Hill. Harun earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied screenwriting and theater directing, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Directing from the American Film Institute. Harun is represented by Creative Artists Agency and Anonymous Content.


Bijan Tehrani: What inspired you to become a photographer?

Harun Mehmedinovic: As a child, I fell in love with oral storytelling, which is now just about a dead art form in the western world. Although I was born in Sarajevo, I partly grew up in the countryside where many of my family members were hunters, and after their hunt we would gather around the campfire and they would tell stories of what happened that day. Of course, most of those stories would be embellished to say the least, or entirely made up, but they were always exciting and something about that experience was primal and struck a chord with me and still lingers.

I was captivated, but never quite digested the true importance of stories until encountering Joseph Campbell. He has a quote that very much points to why stories are important: "I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." Stories are ultimately reflections of someone's else's journey, recounts of a rite of passage, which has led to some sort of wisdom which they then pass on to those who haven't undergone such a journey as to empower them to seek their own adventures. This is very much what made me fall in love with Mark Twain's writings as a kid for example. As kids, we all connect with the adventures in his stories; we all want that sense of freedom and wonder, and a rejection of norms and ideologies. We all want to rebel, pave our own way through adventures, and experience that "rapture of being alive."

Getting back to the question, I view photography as just one of many mediums for telling stories. With film being my first passion, I first learned photography through cinematography, which is somewhat a roundabout way to do so. Cinematographers usually get some of their practice in through photography, and I went about it completely the opposite way, and it has influenced my style as a photographer. I prefer dramatic, contrast feel to the images, as if they are still frames from a film, I think they have taken on a cinematic quality because of that.


I first experimented with photography as a hobby about ten years ago, during my studies at UCLA. Twice a year I would drive from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. and back, along Route 40, photographing landscapes. It was a way to disconnect from the daily grind, have a rare moment of solitude, and re-charge for the following six months. I think this sense of freedom, wide open space, a certain release, led me to pick up a still camera again a few years later, but this time consciously, as part of a project, and for the first time involving human subjects. I say subjects as I would like to draw a distinction between models (who are there to serve the photographer) and subjects (who are there to be served by the photographer).

BT: How do you pick your subjects?

HM: When I was going around the film festival circuit, where I was screening a film I had made, I met old friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years. Many were rooted in a 9-5 existence, living highly structured, stressful lives. They were stuck in that mode of always looking and planning ahead and constantly looking behind seeing if they met goals, but never living in the present. They rarely, if ever, engaged in creative or artistic endeavors. I initially wanted to involve them in my film projects, but that would have been very difficult to do at such a large scale, so I shifted my attention to photography.Instead of going to a coffee shop, I proposed that they take a day off, pick a place that has meaning to them, and choose clothes in which they feel like themselves. That was the starting point. From there the idea was to improvise; spontaneity was to be at the heart of the process. I wasn’t surprised when so many chose locations away from their work and place of living. Naturally, when given a choice, most of us want to get away for a day.


Typically, early on in these shoots, my friends would ask me to give them instructions. Sometimes they wondered what they were doing there, perhaps feeling bored or frustrated. Slowly, their minds began to let go, and they started doing what they felt like: jumping, climbing, wielding props, and taking risks. It felt in some ways like a return to childhood, physicality took over and the camera was there to capture the energy of the moment, ideally telling a story. These "séances" sometimes went on for 10-15 hours. They included long hikes through mountains, head-on collisions with hail and snow, walks through swamps and lakes, and quite a few mosquito bites and bruises. Ultimately, there is something exhilarating and primal about that kind of experience, a head-on collision with nature. It’s genetically embedded. One can’t help but be in the moment, in the present, with heightened senses, acting on impulses.

Because of the nature of this process, the experience of the day was most important, not the resulting images. You could never predict what would come on any particular day, and the idea was to let go and let things come together by circumstance. This is very opposite of the notions of safety and caution that we are bombarded with by the current society. Although being in front of the camera while letting go may seem uncomfortable, after these "séances," just about every one of my friends wanted to keep going, do it again. Each shoot was its own unique adventure with its own surprises. That rush of adrenaline, feeling of being a child again, uninhibited no matter how silly or dangerous, was liberating for myself as well. I had to be there in the present, following the person, shooting without interjecting and letting go to instincts as to where to be at any given time. It was a therapeutic experience for everyone involved more often than not.


I called the project "Bloodhoney" in reference to the Balkans, the region I am from. It is a combination of two Turkish words: Bal, meaning “honey” and Kan, meaning “blood.” The name refers to the bittersweet nature of life, the moments of beauty and the sublime spontaneously captured in the photographs.

BT: One can see a lot of movement in some of your photos, they are like slices of a life on the move, is that a result of this process you describe?

HM: I am following a subject around and snapping away, sometimes they stop, sometimes they keep going, but I’m always on the move finding the angles that best capture the moment. Sometimes the instincts are in the right place, and I capture those split second moments, other times things may be moving too quickly, but it’s important to let things come as they may and not interject. Ultimately, the experience of the moment is what counts, so it’s important for me not to break up the flow and constantly remind the person the camera is there. Often, they are in their own moment, in their element, and I need to be right there with them and capture it as it unfolds. Of course, that controlling photographer part of me often sees those moments that go by without being captured for one reason or another, whether it is that I’m moving to try to find an angle, or something else. It can be frustrating, but that’s part of the beauty of the process, it helps foster instincts and suspends overthinking.

BT: How much time do you spend preparing for a shoot?

HM: In the case of this project, very little outside of making sure the equipment is ready. I rarely use anything besides a camera, as things such as tripods would make it too difficult to be constantly mobile. I refrain from use for flash as to not bring in a distraction; rather I depend on the natural light in all situations. Also, these shoots sometimes take an entire day, so part of preparation is getting good rest. Early on in the project, I was quickly reminded how out of shape I was at the time. Five to ten mile hikes while carrying a heavy camera and an even heavier backpack would burn me out entirely by the end of the day. The adrenaline carries you only so much, then it’s a complete crash. For the first time in years, my mind and body were being put to a test simultaneously, and I loved that. I think the same was true of my subjects.


BT: You mentioned this cinematic quality of your visual approach, could you tell us more about the role that locations, shapes and colors play in your photos?

HM: I think this very much ties back to the process of photography I described above, many locations being their own surprises, it's about being open to that idea and not try to control it. I like to capture "ordinary" spaces in such a way that they appear extraordinary, because in many ways they are extraordinary. We take everything around us for granted, but remember how we all viewed the world as children. It was an amazing place, full of wonder. One just has to take chance and be open to surprises that the day brings. For example, on one of the shoots, we went up to Mt. Wilson, 30min from L.A. to shoot in the early morning fog in what was forecast to be a sunny day. We got there and the biggest hailstorm in the recorded history of Los Angeles began. Most people would try to get off the mountain as soon as possible, in fact, I only saw two more cars on the mountain road that day, so nobody wanted to go and experience this amazing wonder even when the TV stations reported about it.


For me, this was the enormous miracle one hopes for on a shoot, the dusty desert landscape turned completely frozen. It was an image that place had seen maybe once or twice in an entire century and never in recorded history to this extent as I later found out on the news. It's a moment we couldn't have planned out, and its moment we likely won’t be able to recreate in that place again in our lifetime. This was all about taking a chance, going somewhere, taking time to observe and inviting surprises. Rumi, the great Persian poet once wrote: "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent."

With that being said, there are also locations which have a distinctly different energy about them, quite simply something in the air that feels different. A good example for this would be places like Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, where the Civil War is said to have begun when John Brown was caught and executed, or a place such as Antietam battlefield where thousands of men died in a single day. The first time I went to Harper's Ferry, I had no idea of its history. I was a kid still in middle school and I remember not even wanting to be on that trip that day, but I felt something about the place and it stayed with me, and learning the history only shed part of the light on this. Places such as "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump" in Alberta, Canada where Native Americans of the Plains used to send thousands of buffalo over the cliffs in what has to be the biggest annual hunt world has ever seen. This process had been done for thousands of years; underneath those cliffs are layers and layers upon buffalo bones over hundreds of centuries. That place, although completely unrelated to Harper's Ferry, had a similar feel. The sheer sublime was in the air and it was undeniable. The place itself demanded more than a moment of solitude. In fact, America is full of these place where the sublime of nature meets the sublime of man and leaves behind a tangible tension in the air. I think the subjects of these shoots felt this too, as do many people who visit these places every year.


BT: Are you using any computer image editing in order to process your photos further more?

HM: I primarily work to enhance contrast and produce accurate color as far as post production goes. I try to achieve the highest dynamic range in-camera, so I could have freedom to salvage details in light and dark areas of the image. I also find texture to be important. Ultimately, I would like the image to evoke an emotional response, an intrigue, and questions on part of the audience. I enhance the image only as much as it's needed for the mood and tone to be best communicated. As I come from more of a fine arts rather than journalistic background as far as photography and education goes, I am not a purist of the form. I like to experiment, and am not afraid to make mistakes in that process. Many of my photography friends have a very firm stance against post production of images, and perhaps that serves their purposes them best so I will only say that I like to leave doors open to all possibilities.

BT: How is it working in film versus photography?

HM: Much less intimate. What photography allows me to do it be entirely spontaneous and impulsive. Little to no planning, just going out there and letting things happen as they may. It's perfect for certain type of stories. Film on the other hand transports you into an entire other world, a highly sensual experience. Film is my first love and I have wanted to make film since an early age, and it is something I will dedicate myself to on my next project as the story is perfectly suited for it. Primary challenge in film is chemistry of collaboration. Assuming that is necessary has been done to draw up the blueprint, as in, write the script, that is merely the promise but the filming process will determine the end result. Making any film is a tour de force, it's a massive in scale compared to photography even if it's a small independent production with a small crew. Given the amount of money involved, decision making is another challenge, getting everyone on the same page, getting everybody to put film first and egos and other considerations second.


While it is important to start from a great script, great concept, I found it just as important to allow the project to breathe, not to try to execute everything to perfection and suffocate everyone involved. Ultimately, it has to be a beautiful symphony where everyone else involved brings something to the table that I was a writer/direction did not. When everyone is fully behind it, putting all their love, all their passion into it, the whole will be greater than sum of its parts. That is not to say collaboration and chemistry plays no role in photography, it absolutely does as trust has to be established between me and the subjects. I am there with them, not to impose my will on them, they have to trust me to open up and be they. However, with a film, you have to multiply that by hundreds. It's a massive undertaking with many factors; making a great film is not an easy thing to do. Many things have to come together, but if the concept comes from a genuine place, and there is passion and fervor driving the process, in my experience things turn out well more often than not. I love both of these mediums.

BT: Are there photographers that have influenced your work? HM: As far as stylistic influences, they come mainly from cinematography, as that is where I started. Guys like John Seale, Christopher Doyle, Vittorio Storaro, Darius Khondji, and Conrad Hall, among others. I also have to credit certain painters, especially Caspar David Friedrich and Caravaggio. I have always been drawn to strong contrasts, deep, rich blacks in particular, and I think I owe much of that to those influences. I only began to appreciate photographers later, I think what they do is far more understated by nature. We as observers tend to take photos for granted, especially today when we are bombarded with images.


I had come to appreciate two photographers in particular, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Peter Witkin. Bresson for his talent in capturing particular moments in time almost to perfection, not only does he seem to be in the perfect spot at the perfect time, but also the dialogue the human subjects have with the landscape, or rather, their surroundings. He captures a story in each image, and it always demands my attention. With so many great photographers choosing portraiture, it’s refreshing to see someone who had a knack for the moment and the environment. As far as I have seen, nobody after him has achieved such a blend of art and journalism photography. Witkin, too demands attention, for different reasons, and he stuck to a concept most artists wouldn’t dare attempt. One can hardly be neutral to his photographs, it has to cause a reaction, and he pulled this off essentially in studio environment, which is the least appealing place to me as a photographer. He is both a photographer and a sculptor, while his photographs are essentially paintings, and how many photographers have that versatility?

As far as contemporary, more recent photographers, I would say Todd Hido has been my favorite. He has an uncanny ability to capture the spirit, the essence of a place. All of his projects are very different visually, but they have that one common thread. In today’s world where everything is over stylized and overstated, the fact that Hido’s approach is subtle is in itself is an achievement.

BT: What’s the next step for your project and how do you see your future in photography? HM: Next is to complete the book I am currently working on, which will feature photos and stories from the project. I plan several such books because of the overwhelming amount of material, but each will be slightly thematically different. After that, I plan to exhibit the project where it is possible and appropriate to do so, ultimately I would like to communicate ideas behind the project to audiences, and use the images merely as illustration. Recently, I have been invited to present the project in a TEDx talk in Atlanta, which I think is a great platform to share the concept. It's an honor and I look forward to it.

Coastline Pilot: "Artists from a war-torn land showing in Laguna" by Harun Mehmedinovic

"The Spirit"
Green Cube Gallery's 'Bosnian Born' features varied work by 24 artists who fled the conflict in their homeland.

May 24, 2012 | By Joanna Clay

 Large prints by photographer Ivan Hrkas hang on the wall of the Green Cube Gallery, which will showcase the art of Bosnian artists who fled the deadly war in that region.

Large prints by photographer Ivan Hrkas hang on the wall… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

When Green Cube Gallery owner Sejla Holland reached out to Bosnian artist Harun Mehmedinovic for "Bosnian Born," he remarked that he hadn't seen such an exhibit done before.

And when Mehmedinovic, 29, looked over the exhibiting artists lineup, curious if he'd see some familiar names, he paused upon two of them: Seyo Cizmic and Kemal Hadzic.

Mehmedinovic knows the two men from Bosnia. When he was around 9 years old, his family fled his city under siege. The men took them in.

"Had they not been there ... I wouldn't be alive," he said.

Mehmedinovic, Cizmic and Hadzic are three of 24 artists featured in "Bosnian Born," which began May 20 and runs through Sept. 1.

The free exhibit showcases Bosnian artists who fled the 1992 to 1995 conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The works in the exhibit are varied, from clothing and jewelry to paintings, furniture and photography.

"It was just a testament that the creative spirit was not damaged by something so invasive as war," Holland said, a fellow Bosnian refugee who fled in 1994.

Edina Seleskovic's mixed-media pieces for "Bosnian Born" show snapshots into her memory of her homeland. Incorporated into the charcoal sketch of a writhing body of an undressed woman are images of Bosnian women and history. Outside the body are excerpts from newspapers.

Ivan Hrkas' pop culture-infused work is a juxtaposition to pieces like Seleskovic's. He uses Bosnian women to depict icons from the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Anne Frank and Amy Winehouse on one wall and Frida Kahlo and Twiggy on another.

Photographer Dean Zulich, who shoots for Playboy Magazine and appeared on the Vh1 reality show "The Shot," started a new body of work for the exhibit. One of the pieces from the series, "Mask," sits in the gallery's window. He said he was honored to be part of the event and commemorate his country.

Mehmedinovic, a filmmaker by trade, submitted a photograph from a project he's working on called bloodhoney.

His photograph features a woman walking through a snowstorm. It was a rare moment captured 30 minutes outside Los Angeles, he said.

Hadzic's photography show distinct contrasts. On one wall is a black-and-white image, taken during the war, that shows empty streets at dawn; on another wall are shots from his life in Arizona, featuring similarly deserted nature landscapes.

Mehmedinovic came with Hadzic to the United States in 1996, where'd he go on to graduate from UCLA and attend the American Film Institute. Mehmedinovic said one of the first photographs he ever took was with Hadzic's camera.

"Just by chance, [Holland] found them and grouped us all together," he said. "There's some kind of higher voice at work. There was something else to bring us together. I can't believe it is by chance."

Other artists in the show include Bojan Bahic, Lejla Hodzic, Ajla Durbuzovic, Amila Hrustic, Numan Huseinbegovic, Mia Hebib, Amila Hodzic, Milan Senic, Endi Poskovic, Nebojsa "Shoba" Seric, Irfan Redzovic, Ina Soltani, Sabina VajracaVanja Lisac, Aida Sehovic and items made by OshYosh, Kao Pao Shu and Rukotvorine.

About one-third of the show's proceeds are going to the Bosana Foundation, whose efforts to support Bosnian youth includes providing university scholarships and tutoring at orphanages.

The Green Cube Gallery is at 264 Forest Ave. For more information, call (949) 494-1550.

Twitter: @joannaclay


Escaping the Maze: Interview with Harun Mehmedinovic by Harun Mehmedinovic

Escaping the Maze

By Dijana Kadic /

Sarajevo-born and LA-based artist Harun Mehmedinović is most known for his short film “In the Name of the Son,” which follows a Bosnian-American refugee living in LA who confronts an enemy from the past who is asking him for help in committing suicide. The film won several awards and was selected for Cannes and Shanghai International Film Festivals. Mehmedinović has now shifted his focus to photography with his project “Bloodhoney” that features starkly beautiful and poetic pictures of individuals surrounded by environments that demand presence and interact and reflect with the subject’s subconscious. A psychological experiment, Mehmedinović talks about the ambitious agenda of Bloodhoney.

Dijana Kadic: You describe your project as “a narrative photography project that aims to strip away the subject’s persona and spontaneously captures a visual metaphor within a self-reflective, improvisational context.” Can you elaborate on this concept?

Harun Mehmedinović: Basically, all of humanity lives in [the structure of] 9am to 5pm. And when people live in structure, their days become predictable. There’s some kind of long-term goal where people are just moving towards something. But in reality, people become depressed and extremely stressed. They lose a flow with life. I’m interested in taking someone that’s in this maze and giving them a chance of a creative endeavor. I look at it as a psychological experiment.

DK: How do you go about this technically?

HM: I ask a person to pick a location from a gut level, somewhere they’d like to go. They pick their own clothes – things they feel comfortable in or maybe have some significance to them.

I want to put them in a different state of mind than they are every day. Usually people are fulfilling somebody else’s expectations in someone else’s system.

So when I put them into a different position, something might happen. They might do something they haven’t done in many years.

DK: How do you go about making something happen?

HM: The first thing they usually ask me is: “What should I do?” I always tell them we’ll see how things come to them. Let’s not force anything. After a while, they get bored or frustrated. You just see them walking around, not sure what to do. And this turns into infantile behavior, where they might pick up a stick and hit it on something, or they jump around. This behavior sometimes grows into something else. It leads to taking chances. For example, if a person is afraid to climb, they climb something. They start doing something dangerous and taking risks. When people get into that mode, that’s when they have a certain rush.

DK: How do people feel after they’ve been through this experience?

HM: Some of these shoots go to 12 or 13 hours. After we stop, they often tell me: “I’d love to do another 10 or 15 hours now.” They’re totally psychologically transformed by this experience, at least for that little bit of time. About half of these shoots, however, are too short to make any significant impact on a person. People don’t have the time.

DK: Did you have any major breakthroughs?

HM: I had people that did some extreme things [laughs].

DK: Like what?

HM: It was less a breakthrough and more doing something they just don’t do usually, such as taking their clothes off. Or they start screaming or doing something illegal.

DK: Who do you photograph?

HM: A lot of Gen Y’s – people born after the mid-70s or so. They’ve lived lives very much under control. From the beginning, everything was laid out. They were going to go to high school, then college, and then they were going to get a job. Well, there are not enough jobs out there. Most of the things they were told are not true.

DK: Your inspirations for this seem to be much more philosophical and literary in nature, above aesthetics. You’ve referenced Rumi, Joseph Campbell, and Hakim Bey. How does this translate to the visual arts?

HM: Ultimately, all visual arts have a certain story telling element. And sometimes this element can merely be to put people in a certain mood.

The reason I reference Campbell a lot is that he sees storytelling as two-fold. One part is rights of passage and the other is stories. Stories basically encourage people, that haven’t gone through certain rights of passage in life, to follow through on their own convictions or passions. Stories basically tell them that there was once somebody like you with this drive in them. They responded to their call to adventure and they found a piece of wisdom.

And Rumi is going to say that you need to just surrender yourself. Forget all the systems and everything around you and surrender yourself to passion.

DK: There are two things I notice about your project: most of your models are women and you seem to focus more on the environment than the subject itself.

HM: The kind of project I’m doing makes men really uncomfortable. I’ve certainly presented opportunities to men and I’m going to work consciously to get more men involved in this project. But men are extremely insecure. They may be secure in front of somebody else but to actually try to attempt something like this, to let go and open up, makes them feel very uncomfortable. And I don’t know the reasons why. [The project] is not sexual in nature. It’s not like they will embarrass themselves.

DK: Maybe they just have bigger egos than women.

HM: Ego is ultimately the left side of the brain – it’s the controlling side. They’re not letting go. And women are just more willing to. Women are more in tune with beauty, whether that is physical beauty or the sublime. And sublime is a big part of this project.

It’s the idea of man in nature, man versus nature, and nature as a more powerful element. It leaves a strong emotional resonance in us. […] It’s meeting something that is perceived to be more powerful than you.

DK: You’re in the process of working with a curator on an exhibition in New York. How are you going to present Bloodhoney?

HM: [Curating in a gallery] is a new experience for me. […] I’m not doing the art as social or moral action, where I’m immediately trying to get people to go change some bad systems. Rather, I’m trying to emotionally and spiritually engage people, whether they are people that are part of the project or people that are viewing the project. Not surprisingly, women tend to respond to the photos far more than men. And it’s not just because it’s mainly women that are depicted. There are plenty of photos that men masturbate to [laughs]. I think it’s the way that it’s shown.

I tend to keep my distance. I don’t encroach on the women in my photographs. They do what they want to do and I let them do it. So it’s not like fashion photography where I’m contorting them into positions.

DK: But you do have photos on Vogue Italia’s website. Does your work have a place in the fashion world?

HM: I had an opportunity to submit for Vogue and I said to myself: “Why not?” Although my photos are not what you’d think of when you think of Vogue, certain pictures evoke an emotional edge. When you look at some of the stuff in Vogue, especially Vogue Italia, they feature a lot of feminine leaning emotional material. It’s things that would appeal to women more in a sensual basis.

What I’m photographing is not something to see on the street every day, like sexualized pictures of women or pets. So most people who will respond to my project are people who are more in tune with their emotions, which is usually women, [and that’s Vogue’s target audience].

DK: What are some pictures that have evoked the most responses?

HM: My friend left a comment [on Facebook] once saying that these women are so unapologetic and raw. She used the word “divine feminine.” Does that mean unprocessed feminine? Free feminine? The idea that these women do what they want and seem to have no fear in some of these images? They’re hovering over abysses and other high places. These are images that in a certain sense could take your breath away – in a sense where you put yourself in their shoes.

Most photographers shove their camera in the subject’s face. They’re literally using the camera as an extension of their penis. I don’t let those women be dominated or sexualized. It’s about submitting yourself to that moment and taking your ego out of the equation.

DK: I have noticed this about your photographs. Even with nude models, there’s no sexual connotation whatsoever.

HM: There’s something about the choice of where you are with that camera – how close you are, how extenuated certain things are. What are you really putting the focus on?

A key distinction of how I approach what I do is that I see my models as subjects, not objects. The difference is a simple one. A model who is an object works to cater to the photographer, a subject is there to be catered to by the photographer.

DK: So you’re providing a service to them instead of them providing a service to you?

HM: Yeah, I guess you could say that.