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Ziga Koritnik and The Eye

John Kelman By

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Koritnik worked at TV Slovenia as a cameraman for 18 years, honing his skills with a camera the way a musician hones his/her chops with an instrument. Growing up in the 1970s—a time when it seemed like anything was possible—it's no surprise that his musical tastes and the influences that ultimately shaped who he is today were so stylistically broad.

"Beyond my neighbourhood, there was Radio Student in Ljubljana," he explains. "They were always broadcasting very interesting and different music. The first time I heard Frank Zappa was on the radio: The Mothers of Invention, Live at Fillmore East (Rykodiosc, 1971). I would sit next to radio and wait to record the shows on tape so I could listen to them afterwards. Initially, I listened a lot of rock music: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Rory Gallagher, Mike Oldfield...and came to the waters of improvisation through Zappa and a 1987 Miles Davis concert in Belgrade. After that, Pat Metheny came to Ljubljana and became a regular guest of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival. And so began a discovery of music that never ends."

Everyone has to have roots, however, and Koritnik cites seminal photographers including Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier Bresson, Herman Leonard, William Claxton, Peter Beard, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Martin Parr.

Jazz guitarist Pat Martino wrote that you study for years, practice scales, learn harmony, understand rhythm...and then you just forget about it and play. Koritnik has spent plenty of years paying his dues, but from an early time, his eye was already seeing things others didn't, and his approach differed in that it was always about the music. "One of the first shows I ever shot was a Slovenian rock group and a band called Liars," Koritnik recalls. "The place was packed, everybody was smoking and it was so loud I had sound in my ears for another two days. But I was enchanted with the concert atmosphere and all feelings that developed."

While Koritnik's first professional photo shoot was in 1990, "when we were shooting a commercial in Montenegro where, parallel to that, I shot a photo that won a special recognition award at the Olympus International Contest in Japan," the ever-humble photographer still likes to think of his first picture as being "pressing the shutter button on my dad's camera, when I was playing with my irresistible attraction to cameras."

Over the years, Koritnik has shot hundreds—maybe even thousands—of performers, ranging from singers Tom Waits, Cesaria Evora and Dianne Reeves to deep improvisers like saxophonists Anthony Braxton, Peter Brötzmann, Roscoe Mitchell, Mats Gustafsson and Henry Threadgill, Norwegian trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer, guitarist Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, Ethiopians Mulatu Astatke and Mahmoud Ahmed, and irrepressible Dutch drum legend, {{Han Bennink.

"These are musicians and pictures that all have a beautiful story behind them," Koritnik enthuses. "At least, for me. Whenever I am preparing for shows, looking at these pictures again, I get flashbacks of the great and beautiful feelings I had when I was organizing and preparing myself to shoot them."

Many of these images are in Cloud Arrangers, but they only tell part of the story. "Cloud Arrangers includes many pictures that I had in a big exhibition in my hometown of Ljubljana in 2011, plus other pictures from the archives that were not chosen for display. First came the selection and initial order of the pictures, which I left to Polish designer Marek Wajda. Later we made some changes together.

"When I am doing an exhibition," Koritnik continues, "I always try to find pictures that work well together. First I see how much space I have in the gallery, then I decide, based on the size of the pictures, which wall is good for the bigger ones. When I come into the gallery with all my pictures, I put them all around the gallery to see them and then the magic happens; when you start hanging them they go together almost on their own. I like to play and improvise. It always works."

It's no surprise, given Koritnik's love of improvisation, that his approach to photography is similarly in the moment, and that he structures his work the same way musicians often construct their music. "When I am working on my own, I plan where and when to go. Here, the journey somehow begins; a story that contains planned and improvised sections. Even when someone hires me as a photographer and needs specific promo pictures, I still have a greater freedom to do what I can do. In that case it may be more planned, but invariably ends up completely different from what I had in mind.


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