the beauty of the everyday amongst belgrade’s brutalist architecture

In her new book Blokovi – Novi Beograd, photographer Lola Paprocka documents the New Belgrade apartment blocks and their residents.

by Lula Ososki
17 May 2016, 7:30am

After leaving Poland 13 years ago, London-based photographer Lola Paprocka returned to document her home country, as well as the focus of her new book: the brutalist estates of Belgrade. In Blokovi - Novi Beograd, Paprocka approaches the subject as an 'nostalgic outsider', documenting both architecture and portraiture, two themes which weave their way throughout the book, creating an overall narrative illustrating everyday life in the apartment blocks in New Belgrade. Ahead of her exhibition and book launch, we caught up with Lola to find out more about her experience creating Blokovi - Novi Beograd.

Tell us a bit about your new book, Blokovi - Novi Beograd
Blokovi is a photographic series exploring the New Belgrade apartment blocks and their residents, predominantly shot on medium format in August 2015. It's published by Palm (pre-order here). I'm having an exhibition/book launch on the 19th of May at 71A Gallery in London!

Why did you choose to focus on the apartment blocks in Belgrade?
Blokovi is a project I worked on with my close friend Mima Bulj. Having both come from similar backgrounds and upbringings in Eastern Europe, Mima suggested we explore this connection and attempt to capture her homeland as nostalgic outsiders. I've been returning to shoot Polish estates over the last few years and if you are into brutalist architecture there isn't a better place to explore than New Belgrade!

Where are you going to shoot next?
I've decided to focus more on Poland, utilising more portraiture and documentary styles. It's been an on-going series for so long, but after completing Serbian Novi Beograd I decided to go back and shoot the whole project in medium format. Since moving from Poland 13 years ago I would return less frequently as I became more settled in England. Both my partner (Pani Paul) and I printed our books in Poland, so we've visited quite a lot in the past year, which has made me want to continue exploring my home. The whole country has changed so much in the time I've been away and I feel the need to get to know it better, like reuniting with an old friend.

How was your experience growing up in Poland? Do you think this has influenced your work in any way?
I think it's almost impossible to not be influenced by your past and your surroundings. I spent my whole childhood there and moved to London in my late teens. I suppose that's were I got my obsession with brutalist architecture and even seeing similar architectural styles in London - such as the Barbican - brings a strong sense of nostalgia.

In the book, images of architecture are aligned with portraits of those that live there. Was this something you set out to do, or was it an idea that occurred naturally whilst shooting?
There isn't always a particular relationship between they way I shoot architecture and portraiture. I just shoot as much as I can and try to make the most of my situations and interactions. Unless I have a specific image in mind, the curation generally comes later when I have time to look back on the selection as a whole and work on the tone and layout for the book.

Do politics have any impact your work?
I have photographed a lot of "hyper commercial" symbols like the Coca Cola building, the concrete Nike tick and Zepter (Genex) towers. I wasn't intentionally making any statements, it's just a big part of New Belgrade's architecture and any interpretation is completely in the hands of the viewer. 

Do you think it's important to build a relationship with the people you photograph?
To me it's incredibly important and is still a relatively new thing in my photography as I only started focusing on portraiture around 2 years ago. I really do think you can get the best results from your subjects if they're comfortable and at ease with the whole process. It can be very tricky especially if you don't speak the same language, but it's also fun and exciting interacting with strangers. I was very shy and uncomfortable at first but once a few people showed their enthusiasm to participate I became a lot more confident.

What do you want people take from your photographs?
That's a super hard question. I don't think I have a particular mission as such. I'm still learning with each project and trying to figure out what it means to me, so it's too difficult to say. Ask me in 10 years!

Blokovi - Novi Beograd book launch and exhibition opens on the 19 May at 71A Gallery, and is available to pre-order from Palm.


Text Lula Ososki
Photography Lola Paprocka

Lola Paprocka
Brutalist architecture