Marija Gašparović and Igor Dugandžić-Cigo are recognizable faces of the Design District Festival Zagreb, and the festival is even more recognizable because of their photographs. Since the Festival’s first edition in 2016, they have been working together and capturing unrepeatable moments, giving the Festival its visual identity and growing together with it. Marija’s first individual exhibition, organised in the framework of the 2017 Festival, is a comprehensive series of portraits of people from the neighbourhood taken during their interviews conducted by Bojan Krištofić. Igor is a fashion photographer and a portraitist, with a personal inclination towards wedding photos since weddings are particularly challenging for any photographer as places of sincere emotions.
Finally, the moment has come for Marija and Igor to stand in front of the camera lens (their own, they claim) and our voice recorder.
Rebbeca Mikulandra: How did you get into photography, what influenced the choice of your career?
Igor: In the beginning, I was just looking for something that I could do and wander around. I started like everyone, with landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. It took me about 4 or 5 years to start taking portraits. Soon enough, I started photographing portraits of my friends and acquaintances and then it took a different direction with weddings, portraits, and test photos for fashion models, events…
Marija: You forgot the cars.
Igor: Yes, cars were an important part of that. I was photographing cars and I travelled all around Croatia. Although the two seem as completely opposite forms in photography, I am applying a lot of things that I have learnt from taking car photos to weddings. I mastered how to feel the moment and how to be ready to take up on unpredictable things.
Marija: I have started at the Design School when I took a photography class. Stanko Herceg, who was teaching the class, is really a person who has the ability to get one interested in photography. When I started working for Superstudio as a designer with Ira Payer, others took notice that I was good at photography and, step-by-step, I took over the function. Following a series of fortunate or misfortunate events, I met Cigo. Photography brought us together and I have continued developing my work together with him. So, I would say that Cigo and Ira are the main culprits.
RM: Which photographers had the biggest impact on you and how would you describe their impact on your work?
Marija: Actually, I don’t have any role models in photography. I «cherry pick» from various magazines such as Cereal and the current photographic scene.
Igor: My work was under the impact of one of the best known magazine covers ever – the photograph of the little Afghani girl taken by Steve McCurry. I would not call it a role model; the things he does are something I would like to do. It would be nice to capture the moment and emotions in a photograph like that. When I took up photography, my role models were all those people who started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the era of supermodels. In that context, I would emphasise Lindberg. My current role model in Croatia is Jelena Balić, and she is a close friend of ours.
Marija: We bought our first camera together from her.
Igor: I believe that she makes a «complete» personality in photography. For example, Lupino is also my role model, although I hate that word. At the time, nude photographs were published on the last pages of newspaper supplement with TV programme in Večernji list, and they were always signed by Lupino. He also published photos taken at the Oncology Ward of the Children’s Hospital in Zagreb. To me, those photos belong to the top five photography projects in Croatia. He has meticulously developed a pattern inside of which he makes a distinction between lucrative and artistic projects. One cannot live off art – one lives off stupid projects.
Marija: Fine art photography inspires critical thinking – about the light, composition, and message behind while commercial photography implies adapting to the client. The fact is that the best work never gets published.
RM: To further expand the previous question, how would you describe your style? What is the message you wish to convey in your photographs and how do you manage to achieve it?
Igor: My intention is to convey an emotion. I show it in my wedding photos. Perhaps, it is more difficult to capture the emotion when I work on the «one-on-one» basis with a person.
Marija: Although, you are getting better at that.
Igor: Simply, I am not ready for that. I still have a lot to experience and learn to be able to talk with a person for two hours at the studio and then take out one good photograph. I have been photographing people for only five years, and that is not a long time. I like to work on wedding projects and we are not working on many, and that suits me. I like the pressure because the event only takes place once so the pressure becomes an impetus that pushes you forward and makes you try hard to create something unique.
Marija: My approach varies depending on what I am photographing. If I am taking a photo of a product, I like to learn about what it is all about and sometimes it takes me forever to adjust everything until I finally get what I want and what the designer has in mind. With the Design District Festival or weddings and other events in general, my intervention on the moment and the action is minimal. Maybe that is a setback because sometimes you need to stop someone and demand a «pose», and I really hate doing that. I tend to be reserved in communication; I am shy just enough to actually create a special style in taking photographs of events. To make a good photo, I prefer not to ask anyone anything so I always look for a way around it, usually a longer one. Some clients have recognized that and that is the style they want. If the energy at a event is good, they know I will be able to capture and communicate it.
Igor: One of my most favourite compliments from clients is when I ask them what they want and they say that I should just do the things the way I do them.
Marija: Those are the best projects and almost always successful. When there is match between what they want and what we have to offer.
Igor: That is the moment when you can live off art.
RM: You are partners both in your work and private lives. Which aspect of your relationship came first and how did you decide to become business partners? How would you describe your significant other when you work together?
Igor: after we became a couple, Marija needed some time to enter the world of photography.
Marija: He had so much trust in me and once he simply put the camera in my hands and said that I had to photograph a wedding. Igor learns a lot from tutorials and I am more into the oral tradition so that I can ask questions. I picked what I needed from the theory, which he studies for hours on end. Stanko Herceg and the Zagreb School of Design had an impact on this couple so that we have composition and sensibility and Cigo’s contribution is his technical knowledge, which he has taken to the level of art. The two of us creatre very different things – he is much more into portraits. We have met though photography and we would not be where we are today without each other. I would have not started working in photography without him. I like to put it this way: I would not be a photographer without Cigo, and he would not be a good photographer without me (laughter). We are really a team.
Igor: If we work on a project, then I am the one to work on the technique and she is the developer. I am in charge of the technical aspects, such as planning and setting everything…
Marija: And I am in charge of the frame, composition and art direction.
Igor: She is the artistic phase and I am the «gaffer», or the person setting the lighting.
Marija: Sometimes he has perfect lighting, an excellent model and the photograph is great. When he sends it to me, I see that the frame can be improved with just a small intervention, a crop, which would make the work six hundred times better. And that is Stanko Herceg’s credit because he has not been insisting on technical points but rather on the relation between the colour, plane and the space. And now we are able to work on a project so that we each have our own function and we keep growing in the aspect that the other one is better at.
RM: You are the official photographers of the Design District Festival – do you have any favourite moments that you managed to capture with a camera? What makes the Design district (perhaps) a special project in terms of photography, or what would be your aim when you direct your camera lens at various locations, inhabitants or visitors during the Festival?
Marija: The District is very good moment for capturing emotions. We try to capture people who are happy for being here. As a rule, children and dogs have the most entertaining moments. We are also very happy because the Design District Festival brought us to such beautiful roofs where we were able to photograph beautiful views, which is something that the audience likes the most. I think that the most challenging thing during the Festival is to be at so many places at the same time.
Igor: Every photo taken during the Festival is cool.
Marija: Our only criterion, defined by us, is to capture something fun on the photograph. One of my favourite photos was taken at Ratkaj Passage when a girl, kids and a dog were running through an installation and it was created by luck. It could have only been a photo of a passage but someone added something that can be used to describe the District. That is the only criterion for me and I can endlessly wait for a photo like that, and there were many taken while I was simply going from one location to another.
Igor: If I can speak in terms of Instagram moments, I think my favourite photo was taken during the first edition of the Festival when I took a selfie with Eddy Ramich and Ira Payer. The story is simple; when I bought the first Discman, the first album I listened to was his «Eddie Meets Yannah». When iPods arrived, it was my first mp3. And then, twenty years after, I met him here and took a selfie with him.
Marija: Our photographs stay behind after every District and for that reason we are happy to be able to contribute to the general sense of the Festival. Many people tell us that we managed to capture the «feeling» of the Festival. I think it is easy to fail in capturing the atmosphere of a festival.
Igor: People will remember the photos because they are documenting certain times. The District has this excellent, open atmosphere and we are really enjoying in catching those moments.