When taking this photograph in Mostar, Bosnia, in June 2006, I knew it was something of a clichéd juxtaposition of war and peace – the flower against a backdrop of bullet-holes. All the same, I was so excited to have an opportunity to shoot such a juxtaposition – how often does one get to have a bullet-pocked wall as a backdrop outside of war-zones? – that I probably spent an inappropriate amount of time relishing the subject matter, despite its tragic significance. It was a beautiful sunny day and the town looked especially lovely in the early summer sunshine – adding a mild air of surrealism to this contrast between the peaceful present and this evidence of past conflict.
This photograph was taken during a week-long visit to Bosnia – one of the most interesting, moving and sadly beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Mostar, which had much of its historic centre, including its magnificent bridge, destroyed during the Bosnian war, still bears the very visible scars of the conflict, despite huge efforts to reconstruct what was destroyed. I’m not sure what their long-term goal is with regard to all of the still visibly damaged and abandoned buildings, but I hope that some might remain as a testament to the horrors of the conflict.
Both Mostar and Sarajevo are well worth a visit, not only for their beauty, cultural diversity and history, but also for their Burek – the best I’ve ever eaten. Despite my feeling an almost perverse fascination with the evidence of devastation, the sadness was so palpable and undeniable – like a slow-burning rage that something so barbaric could happen so recently in eastern Europe – that I came away wanting to investigate further and write about it at length. This resulted in a poem of mine, inspired more particularly by a visit to the tunnel museum in Sarajevo, which was published in P N Review in 2007 – something of which I was very proud. It was very pleasing to be able to make a contribution, however small, to commemorating the bravery and suffering of the people of Sarajevo.
We don’t hear much about the Bosnian War any longer, but they are still picking up the pieces and the tensions have never really been put to bed. Clichéd or otherwise, I like this photo because it triggers a range of memories – of the pleasure of that holiday and of the horrors of the conflict – the sort of bittersweet contrast to which I am partial. In the local language, stari most means “old bridge”, and I still find myself singing “stari, stari most” to the tune of Starry Starry Night – which got stuck in my head during this trip – perhaps a glib response, but the tune is so deeply and sweetly melancholic that it seems appropriate.