Born in Serbia but often based in NYC, Boogie is a seasoned photograper with an acute eye. His work tends to focus on urban lifestyles and social tension. Through his lens images of gang initiation, drug abuse, poverty and isolation are imbued with a gracefulness and humanity. Sharp details and blurred edges combine to create an almost-tangible atmosphere for the viewer. Equal turns raw and refined, Boogie's work is undeniably captivating. That he's prolific is an added bonus. Boogie doesn't ask questions, he just shoots.
Main image: Ray's stepson playing with his eye cavity. Ray was a successful crack deal who later became an addict. He lost his eye in a street fight. Brooklyn, NY, 2004
First, how did you come to photography?
In a way I grew up surrounded by cameras, my dad was an amateur photographer, my grandfather, too. My dad always tried to get me interested, but I didn't really care. But then in 1993, when things fell apart in my country, I decided to start taking pictures. In a way it was to preserve my sanity. Serbia was under strict economic sanctions, there was hyperinflation, people were starving, couldn't afford food, there was no medicine, so I guess photography was my escape from that.
Does that escapism play into the work you're creating now?
Hard to explain. The actual process of taking pictures, walking around with the camera, spacing out, maybe that for me is the escapism part. But at the same time, I'm always trying to just shoot what I see, to be as realistic as possible.
Kingston, Jamaica, September 2011
Your work walks a beautiful, curious line between documentary and portraiture. It that boundary line important to the ideas you're communicating?
I don't really think when I shoot, I just do it. For me, photography is similar to martial arts, to fighting. If you practice certain move million times, when the time comes to use it, your body will just react. Same goes for photography. Thinking is the enemy. I don't have intellectual ideas about what I'm trying to communicate, I just follow my gut.
It sounds so instinctual. Have you always worked that way, or is it a system you've developed and refined over years of shooting?
Maybe both. I think it's part of who I am, but then of course, over the course of decades, if you work at something then your skills improve.
Do you consider the viewer when shooting?
No, I never think about it.
Bangkok, Thailand, June 2011
Most of your work focuses on the urban landscape and environment. Why? Do you handle the people in the urban environments differently than the things?
I love concrete. I'm a city kid, streets are where I feel at home, what I've always been around. Although I have different phases of shooting different things, different environments. From time to time I get obsessed with birds, flowers etc. About people: lately I'm not that much after them. Before I thought that you have to have a human being in the photo in order for it to be good. But now I catch myself waiting for people to leave the frame.
When you share your work, what images do you find that viewers gravitate more towards?
I think people gravitate more toward rough images, more shocking, whether they have people in them or not. People are drawn to things and situations that they don't encounter in their daily life. But I don't think about that, somehow those situations just come up.
Sonia waiting for a crack delivery, Brooklyn, NY, 2005
Some of your pictures have really shocking, disturbing subject matter, but it's still relatively simple for a viewer to experience those. What's going through your head as you're recording those moments, behind the lens but so close to tragedy?
When I'm shooting some emotionally heavy situations, I automatically detach myself somehow. At that moment I don't think I feel anything, but it always comes to me later. Sometimes it can hit you years later. Everyone will tell you there are lines that are not supposed to be crossed, but those lines can easily get blurred, and the deeper you go, the more interesting it gets, and the better pictures you take.
What are the implications of black and white film versus color? Which do you prefer?
I'm always switching back and forth, but I think I still prefer black and white. I also think it's much easier to nail a good shot in black and white film. You have one less element to think about, sometimes color is just too much information, the point can be lost.
Istanbul, Turkey, 2007
What's your favorite camera to shoot with?
It's not about the camera, I've used everything from Holga to Leica, every camera serves a different purpose. In the hands of a ninja everything becomes a deadly weapon.
Are you working on anything now that you're really excited about?
I'm building an 11x14 inch wet plate camera, and plan to continue my DEMONS portrait series.
from the DEMONS series, created with the wet plate collodion process, 2011
An obvious question, what's the main challenge you face with photography and as a photographer? What are the best and worst aspects?
I think the main challenge is staying inspired. Inspiration is the key, great shots are everywhere, you just have to see them. I've been inspired like crazy lately. I love what I do and can't imagine doing anything else in life. I really can't think of any bad aspects of being a photographer.
Check out more of Boogie's work here, and feel free to share your thoughts, impressions and questions below.