There are a lot of fascinating, eerie and surreal abandoned places around the world, from hotels and castles, to churches and schools. Passionate Croatian photographer Mirna Pavlović has been extensively investigating them in Croatia and around Europe for over a year now. We caught up with her…
Hi Mirna, whereabouts are you from, and how did you get into it?
I am from Zagreb, Croatia, although I now split my home between two countries – Belgium and Croatia. Only two years ago I was still in college, writing my two theses and not knowing what I wanted to do with life. I was studying Comparative Literature and English Language and Literature. During that last academic year I finally decided to do what I always wanted to – travel. Around that time I was given my first analogue camera and only then did my passion for photography started developing. I quickly combined the two, travelling and photography, and decided to bring in another element. Something I wanted to do ever since I can remember. Exploring abandoned places. So it was all basically a side-effect of a really strange web of circumstances. Since then, I’ve travelled extensively through Croatia, Italy, Bulgaria, Belgium and Portugal, visiting the many abandoned places in these countries.
What’s the best part of the project, what do you enjoy the most?
The feeling I value most is the sense of freedom and the adrenalin rush. Everything acquires a new quality to it – the sounds are louder, the scents are stronger, a sense of self-awareness is overwhelming. Every frame and every photo I take is like a test for myself, to see how far I’m willing to go and how much I’m willing to endure just to take that beautiful shot of a decaying structure. My photos represent me, in the truest sense possible, and how much I risk to find myself once again and find that purest feeling– happiness.
My second favorite thing is the research, scouting for these places in libraries, archives, online, by talking to people. It’s amazing how much you get to communicate with people and how many more social connections you establish. But the feeling of finding something after searching for it for months and months is just priceless.
What type of camera do you use?
I use a really old Nikon D80 paired with a wide-angle lens. At times I still go back to my roots, to an analogue Praktica BX20, but not so much lately.
What is your favourite place you have come across or the place that surprised you the most?
My favourite places are those rich with history and with a good deal of adventure involved into actually accessing the place. One such location was a very old convent-turned-castle on an island in Italy. The very air there was heavy with history, and the castle itself contained numerous hallways, rooms, winding staircases. It was a labyrinth. The church was enormous and filled with scaffolding, and the chipped walls in the chapel showed all the previous layers of architecture. It was a true adventure in every sense of the word. Places such as these amaze me the most, as well as stumbling upon places in which no one has ever been before and there are no photos of it. In those situations I feel like I am truly exploring something unknown. Almost like an urban archaeologist.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes from your travels?
Exploring abandoned industry that’s just about to be demolished is always an adventure in Belgium because the sites are well guarded or crawling with metal thieves. And exploring abandoned villas in Italy can sometimes be a creepy experience. I always recall a villa there where we heard soft humming and slow, approaching footsteps. In the darkness and eeriness of the villa it was a pretty intense experience, but looking back to it, we probably overreacted.
What do you do in your free time?
I try to spend every free moment exploring or researching new places, thinking about new projects or going out to shoot some other personal photography projects. The current project I work on in my free time is Zagreb’s socialist architecture.
What are your plans for the future?
I am now intensely focusing on launching my site and professional career as a photographer, with more plans for travelling and exploring abandoned places than can possibly fit in one lifetime. So far I was focusing a lot on Europe’s abandoned locations, but now I’m thinking more globally. So my gaze is quickly shifting to far away places, the States, Asia, Russia…and so much more. I’m looking forward to creating new projects and organizing my first solo expo.