The photographic archives of the Meštrović Gallery in Split contain more than 3,500 photos commissioned by the Ivan Meštrović Museums from Zoran Alajbeg. In the past two decades, Alajbeg, who took up photography in 1978, has directed his lens so often at works of Meštrović as to create a huge collection of photographic images now held in the Ivan Meštrović Museums.
A considerable number of the photographs were taken in the context of major exhibition projects dedicated to the important themes and motifs of Meštrović’s oeuvre.1 Following the conceptions of the curators, with his sensitive approach, Alajbeg recorded the elusive – the emotional component of the female nudes, the exalted spirituality of the religious motifs and the individual features of the subject of a portrait. For monographic publications devoted to museum units of the Ivan Meštrović Museums in Split and Otavice, he photographed Meštrović’s architecture, and artworks that are featured in their permanent displays.2 Although the photographs were done to order and for specific projects, Zoran, as artist of an exceptional sensitivity, needs no particular instructions – his photography is an outstanding upgrading of the usual way of looking at sculptures. But as well as in commissioned projects, Alajbeg also independently records Meštrović’s works, such as public monuments, conveying to us in photography his own impression of public sculptures with which we are very familiar. 3
Alajbeg almost always works alone, without any assistance, immersing himself into his world through the camera eye. There is no kind of manipulation or external stimulus, only the subject of the photograph and its immediate surroundings, the endeavour always being to capture the interaction of animate and inanimate worlds. Although possessed of consummate technical competence, he says modestly “My camera is just an auxiliary means, to record my look”. And this look approaches the work of Meštrović with exceptional respect and understanding.
He always takes heed of the spirit of the place in which the sculpture is positioned. Thus the Portrait of Olga Meštrović (cat. no. 24), on view in the great entrance hall to the Meštrović Gallery in Split, with its determined look and self-possessed stance, becomes “mistress of the house” – the one-time family villa, the architectural details of which, such as the fenestration and the columniation are taken in by his composition. The marble sculpture Waiting (cat. no. 20), permanently accommodated in the atrium of the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb, emerges from a shady and intimate nook of the closed atrium. What is particularly brought out is the contrast of the warm and soft light and the cold marble over which it slides. The petrified female figure seems to have started its life in some parallel world of feeling, contemplation and reverie. The monumental sculpture Mila Gojsalić (cat. no. 28) reigns stalwart over the expanse of the canyon of the River Cetina above Omiš, while day breaks in the background, symbolically foreshadowing the fateful task placed before the Poljica heroine. Male statues like Miloš Obilić (cat. no. 6), with their rippling musculature, dynamic movement and mighty strides, dominate the composition of Alajbeg’s picture. Cyclops (cat. no. 23), shown precisely at the moment when with a mighty swing of the arm he will hurl a pile of stones, gains in force in Alajbeg’s photograph, which catches him from an uncommon viewpoint, from behind.
The sculpture in no way loses any of its materiality by being shown in a play of light and shade, the texture of the sculptural surface, the mastery of the space. In Alajbeg’s frame it obtains its full sense. The rocking surface of the bronze sculpture Girl Singing (cat. no. 3) is a perfect correlation to the choppy sea on the horizon. Alajbeg observes precisely such kinds of details, and does not miss a chance to record them with his lens in the given moment, aware that such a perfect composition, or moment of inspiration, will probably not arise again. In other cases, creating his own staging, he will produce an entirely new experience. For example, the sensual female bust Woman in the Rapture of Prayer (cat. no. 13), represented in infinite space, along the lines of Metaphysical Painting, acquires a magical and almost surreal component.
Alajbeg recognises Meštrović as a sculptor of feelings, and with his photographic approach heightens all those thoughts and emotions that, we venture to assume, were interwoven in the sculptor’s creative work. Zoran’s exceptional sensibility enables what goes on beneath the surface to be shown through camera angle and light, in which the sculpture starts a completely new life. And although a photograph will never be a substitute for a direct experience of a sculptural work in the fullness of its volume and of the space that it occupies, the photography of Zoran Alajbeg will be a powerful memento of it and the emotion that we felt at the moment of direct contact with the work of art. Just like the artwork of Meštrović, Alajbeg’s photography has the dimension of long duration.
Zorana Jurić Šabić
1 Portraits of Contemporaries – Universes of Personal Encounters and Social Involvements (Križevci 2021, Zagreb 2021/2022, Virovitica, Sinj, Vrpolje 2022); Imprints of the Soul – the Religious Art of Ivan Meštrović (Pula 2019.); Sculpture and Nakedness – Corporeality and Eroticism in the Works of Ivan Meštrović (Zagreb 2016, Ljubljana 2018); Ivan Meštrović: We thank her… (Zadar, Vrpolje 2013).
2 The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer – Ivan Meštrović in the Context of his Native Region (2020), Meštrović Gallery – Catalogue of the Permanent Display (2018), Ivan Meštrović: The History of Jesus of Nazareth in Wood / Chapel of Holy Cross, Meštrović’s Crikvine Kaštilac (2017).
3 Such are for example Meštrović’s Monument to Gregory of Nin (1927) and Monument to Marko Marulić (1924) shown in the exhibition Zoran Alajbeg – the Face of the City, January 10 to 28, 2010, in Salon Galić in Split.