War Photo Limited
January 23, 2013
The stairs creaked as I crept up the darkened staircase, the music and happy conversation left behind me in the outdoor restaurants of Dubrovnik. I looked but there seemed to be no one around. I cleared my throat and walked back and forth a bit making sure to step on the creaky board, hoping to passive-aggressively alert someone to my presence. Eventually a girl bounded up the stairs to take my admission fee and give me a binder full of photo captions. I took a deep breath and looked up at the first jarring war photo.
War Photo Limited is an exhibition center of war and conflict photography in Dubrovnik’s Old Town that tries to lift any romantic veil from war and show how it really is. It’s uncomfortable but it’s one stop I think everyone who visits Dubrovnik should make. The rooms feel like an art gallery but these photos are not art. They’re, sometimes graphic, depictions of the realities of war, for innocents and combatants alike. It definitely isn’t a family friendly outing. Morbid curiosity wasn’t what brought me there though. Croatia has a long and rich history and I wanted to try to understand what happened here. I wanted to fully experience the city, even if that meant delving into the ugly bits as well.
In October of 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army and remained under siege for months. The city was shelled repeatedly. Over 500 buildings were hit and over 80 civilians were killed. Today, Dubrovnik has been rebuilt and has a shiny gloss to it. Happy, relaxed cruisers stroll the Stradun with their ice cream, sip coffee at outdoor cafes and walk the city walls. Unlike Mostar, you have to look very hard to see any evidence of destruction. Up on the walls is about the only place you’ll notice: new red roofs next to weathered rust red roofs. It makes it easy to just forget and soak up the sun and the charm of the narrow streets instead.
War Photo Limited has no political agenda and you never feel as if they picked sides with any of the conflicts represented in their exhibit. There’s no propaganda and nothing has been sensationalized. This is an educational experience. The photos are simply matted and framed. The captions in my binder describe the subjects matter-of-factly. The photos I saw covered Croatia, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo, but subject matter isn’t limited to the former Yugoslavia. War Photo Limited displays work from world-renowned photojournalists that cover many different conflicts.
It was quiet as a tomb and I had the place to myself, which somehow seemed to make each photo more poignant As I wandered from one photo to the next I couldn’t help but think, “Why?” Why do we do these things to each other? What has to happen to turn neighbour against neighbour? The more I travel, the more I realize that we’re more alike than we are different. Whatever our religion or ethnicity, humans are humans. So the fact that we can turn on each other over something like where you were born or a bit of land continues to baffle me.
Just before closing time I descended those creaky stairs and stepped back into the world, temporarily stunned by the gleeful sights and sounds so in contrast to the exhibit. For a brief moment I felt outrage that people dare be laughing after what I had just seen. I challenge you to leave War Photo Limited unaffected. But as I walked back down the Stradun I cheered up looking at the gleaming Old Town of today. All is not lost. Bad times are not forever and even people and places that have seen destruction and heartbreak can be put back together.
- Where: Antuninska 6, 20000 Dubrovnik, Croatia (4th street on your left, entering from the Pile Gate)
- Cost: 30 Kn (~$5.25 CAD)
- Hours: May & October Tue-Sun 10 am – 4 pm; Mon Closed
June – September Everyday 9 am – 9 pm
November – April Closed