ARE WE EUROPE
ARE WE EUROPE
  MM: What motivated you to photograph the homeless community?   On the one hand, it was curiosity and passion for photography and simply wanting to take pictures and learn. On the other, it was the huge challenge to try to enter the lives of people living on the edge which interested me. My journey got personal when I started to be really accepted. I met a couple of people I could rely on in spite of the fact that they had been on drugs or had been former convicts. I started to get rid of prejudices and step by step, I started to understand their way of life and became part of it to a certain extent. It stopped to be just a hunt for a good picture and became personal. Also, that is the point when the photographic magic starts to happen; when you are really close to your subjects.   

LIVING ON THE EDGE

BY PETER DOBIS

The documentary project Living on the Edge by Peter Dobis centres around the lives of a homeless community in Bratislava. The ongoing project started in 2013 and in the years since Peter has been immersing himself further into a “marginalized and dangerous” culture within a city that has little eye for this community living on the periphery. Are We Europe’s Marije Martens interviews him about his experiences.

  MM: What motivated you to photograph the homeless community?   On the one hand, it was curiosity and passion for photography and simply wanting to take pictures and learn. On the other, it was the huge challenge to try to enter the lives of people living on the edge which interested me. My journey got personal when I started to be really accepted. I met a couple of people I could rely on in spite of the fact that they had been on drugs or had been former convicts. I started to get rid of prejudices and step by step, I started to understand their way of life and became part of it to a certain extent. It stopped to be just a hunt for a good picture and became personal. Also, that is the point when the photographic magic starts to happen; when you are really close to your subjects.   

MM: What motivated you to photograph the homeless community?

On the one hand, it was curiosity and passion for photography and simply wanting to take pictures and learn. On the other, it was the huge challenge to try to enter the lives of people living on the edge which interested me. My journey got personal when I started to be really accepted. I met a couple of people I could rely on in spite of the fact that they had been on drugs or had been former convicts. I started to get rid of prejudices and step by step, I started to understand their way of life and became part of it to a certain extent. It stopped to be just a hunt for a good picture and became personal. Also, that is the point when the photographic magic starts to happen; when you are really close to your subjects.

 

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  MM: How do you deal with immersing yourself in this culture that you yourself call ‘marginalised’ and even ‘dangerous’? Have you ever felt unsafe during your work?   There has always been a risk and there is a constant danger. I tried to be careful and learn how to move in this environment. But I was lucky as well. All in all, danger and risk are n a normal part of this kind of project and I just needed to accept it and went on.

MM: How do you deal with immersing yourself in this culture that you yourself call ‘marginalised’ and even ‘dangerous’? Have you ever felt unsafe during your work?

There has always been a risk and there is a constant danger. I tried to be careful and learn how to move in this environment. But I was lucky as well. All in all, danger and risk are n a normal part of this kind of project and I just needed to accept it and went on.

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  MM: You’ve called your series ‘living on the edge’. This could both mean being pushed into the periphery as well as choosing to place yourself outside of society. How would you characterise your subjects? Are they willing outsiders, or are they outcasts?   I wouldn’t say people are being pushed outside of society by others, but they are also not willing outsiders. In most of the cases, it all starts during childhood with the environment and people they are surrounded by. Just one example. I met a girl who has been prostitute and drug addict since she was 18. And in fact, it was her mother who sent her on the street. Of course, there are some other cases when people became homeless because of unlucky and bad things happening in their lives. But in general, environment and family conditions are the factors shaping the destiny of people ending up on the street or on drugs.

MM: You’ve called your series ‘living on the edge’. This could both mean being pushed into the periphery as well as choosing to place yourself outside of society. How would you characterise your subjects? Are they willing outsiders, or are they outcasts?

I wouldn’t say people are being pushed outside of society by others, but they are also not willing outsiders. In most of the cases, it all starts during childhood with the environment and people they are surrounded by. Just one example. I met a girl who has been prostitute and drug addict since she was 18. And in fact, it was her mother who sent her on the street. Of course, there are some other cases when people became homeless because of unlucky and bad things happening in their lives. But in general, environment and family conditions are the factors shaping the destiny of people ending up on the street or on drugs.

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 "Of course, mainstream society can see it. But only from a distance. You do not immerse yourself into such a culture if you live a regular life and so you will never really know it. It took me so much time and energy to work on this project and to step into such a world."   

"Of course, mainstream society can see it. But only from a distance. You do not immerse yourself into such a culture if you live a regular life and so you will never really know it. It took me so much time and energy to work on this project and to step into such a world."

 

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  MM: What does the concept ‘home’ mean to you? Could you say that it means something different for the community in your photography than for those living in mainstream society?   There is a big difference. When you do not have a place to stay or you have only a shelter without electricity, you are just surviving. I would say these people live a raw, simple and often brutal life. On the contrary, mainstream society lives in a total comfort zone compared to them. Just try to imagine you need to start a fire in the winter in order to survive. Would there be a difference in 'home' concept perception for you then?

MM: What does the concept ‘home’ mean to you? Could you say that it means something different for the community in your photography than for those living in mainstream society?

There is a big difference. When you do not have a place to stay or you have only a shelter without electricity, you are just surviving. I would say these people live a raw, simple and often brutal life. On the contrary, mainstream society lives in a total comfort zone compared to them. Just try to imagine you need to start a fire in the winter in order to survive. Would there be a difference in 'home' concept perception for you then?