A walk through Cuba and a Q&A with Photographer Miodrag Sojanovic
GR: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? What first inspired you to start taking photos?
I was born in the city of Zajecar in the eastern part of Serbia in 1974. I grew up in east Serbia where I finished my primary and secondary school. My father was a teacher in primary school as well as my mother. My main inspiration was my father who was involved in photography for a long time. He was a photographer and thaught students photography, so I can claim that I grew up in a dark room.
GR: At what age did you begin getting serious about the art of photography?
When I was in the 8th grade I began compeing in videoggaphy competitions and I won the national championship. I did video production for the next 6 years and after that I start working almost exclusively in photography.
When I finished secondary school I went to the city of Nis, south Serbia where I studied medicine. I started traveling as a student and my first inspiration was travel photography. I traveled to Mexico. Brazil, Argentina, and Israel. At age 24 I finished medicine and now I am an assistant professor with the medical faculty staff at the same University I attended as well as the Director of the Insitute for Public Health in Nis.
GR: What are your favorite things to photograph (landscape, action, portrait, etc.)?
It is hard to say what my favorite thing is to schoot. I travel a lot and really like good landscapes. However, during my travel I am looking for good models, interesting faces and the right moment to shoot people. I believe the most important thing is to have a plan, find a good location and hopefully you will be lucky enough to be there at the right moment. Before I set off to travel I spend days researching the location, the right time to shcoot there and hidden places that are not as popular but great for capturing photos. My best photos are miners’ portraits I took in the eastern Serbia mines that made me popular all over the world. It was a project that I put lot of energy into.
I believe there are a few locaitons that are a must for all serious photographers. The first, but of course not the most important, is the magical island of Santorini, Greece. this is such a great place that you just need to have a camera and shoot. For sure you will get the best photos you have ever taken.
Second is Iceland. It’s a great place for photography whith lots of great waterfalls, lagoons, nature, etc.
Italy is on my list as well. I have been there more than 30 times and I can say that Venice and Tuscany are my favorite locations in that country. Venice is like a museum. You have cool architecture all over the city, not just in one part like in other cities.
Tuscany is a must destination for all landscape Photographers. The spring and autumn Months are the best times to visit. The landscapes are beautiful and the light, especially early in the morning, is magical with low fog in the valleys. The best locations are in the south where there are few tourists. I have been to Thailand and the Seychelles, as well and if you like to shoot beaches, these are great locations for that, expecially the Seychelles.
For the adventurous ones, Omo Valley in Ethiopia is a great place to shoot. Probably the most interesting faces on the planet whom are living in the most primitive way – directly off of the very land that is the cradle of mankind.
Finally, one of my favorite locations is Cuba, Cuba is so different; no words can explain it. Havana, Trinidad and other cities on the island look as if you are in some movie taking place back in time. Everything is as it was in the 1950s. Old cars, old buildings. People are smiling and singing. No one has money yet all are happy.
The light is magical there. During the summer it rains very often, but I was happy that the rains lasted for just 10 minutes and when it stopped I would have such great light and clean air.I spent most of my 22 days of travel time in the cities of Havana and Trindad. Both places are really great and of course Trinidad is much smaller. I would wake up early in the morning when no tourists were on the street and only Cubans were active. The light is great in the morning and the place looks much better with no tourists.
GR: How did the picture that is now our logo for Griots Republic come about?
The picture of the old man is your GR logo was taken in the Cuban city of Trinidad early in the morning. I remember like it was yesterday. The old man was standing in front of his home on a hilly street with no asphalt and smoking a self-made cigar. I said to him “hello” and started a conversation. This is one of the most important things if you want to take a good portrait of a stranger. First you have to talk with them, to relax them and to gain their confidence. After that, you can ask to shoot them and hope that you do it the right way.The guy was very friendly and I asked him about his cigar. I asked him where he bought it. He was smiling and told me that he made it for himself. After that, i asked him if I could take his portrait and he was ok with that. The light was perfect and I just asked him to smoke his cigar. He was a natural and I did a great job.
In the past 10 years, one of my biggest inspirations has been Annie Leibowitz. She is such a talented artist. Her work is so easy, but so different. She uses great studio settings where the main object is a canvas backdrop. This was inspiration for me and a few years ago I founded a company called Gravity Backdrops (www.gravitybackdrops.com) that makes hand painted canvas backdrops with very reasonalbe prices. The saem quality is three times more expensive elsewhere. Now my company is world famous with hundreds of satisfied customers.
For the last 5 years I have been involved in photo schools in Serbia and have a lot of students that are now professional photographers. At one point in time I worked for Playboy and did a great story about our prime Minister where he was talking about wine production and not politics. I also did a story on a really special biker with an interesting life story.
I believe that equipment is important, but not the most important thing.
GR: What type of camera and lens do you use to capture your photos?
From the very beginning I’ve always used Nikon, I had lot of different cameras – D90, D3s, D3x and now D800. Lenses I use are 50mm f1.4; 85mm f1.8; 24-70; 70-200 vr2 and 17-35 f2.8. I use Elinchrome flashes and Deep Octa and Octa 135 as well as a Photek Softlighter II like Annie Leibowitz.
If you took in my camera bag you will see that I use professional equipment, but this is not a necessity in order to take a good photo. Now I have a Fuji ex-2 and I use it a lot for my baby boy and family.
I believe that equipment is important, but not the most important thing. All of my photos from Cuba were taken with a Nikon D90 and I have big prints in my office next to ones taken with D3s and a D3x. There is a difference in quality, but it is not a big deal. I believe that the most important thing is motive and I am alwasy looking for good motive.
GR: Thank you for allowing Griots Republic to feature you as our professional photographer for this month’s issue. Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
My Final message to all people who like photography is to explore nature, think about places you want to go and have a good plan for shooting. Educate yourself in the photography field and the most important thing is to enjoy taking the photos.
Dr. Miodrag Stojanovic is a medical doctor, assistant professor & Director at the Institute of Public Health in Nis, Serbia, owner & founder at GravityBackdrops.com and professional photographer. You can find his portfolio at www.pixoto.com/drmstojanovic