Sometimes I wish I could brag about a past where, as a child, I discovered through a game or a hobby something that would eventually develop into a passion or professional interest. This is the case of many painters who began by scribbling on the walls, singers who won first places in school competitions, or novelists who wrote letters to their college sweethearts. But that wasn’t my case.
In an unsafe city, I grew up within four walls for protection. Don’t get me wrong, all my childhood memories were fond and I constantly look back to make sure of it. How? Surely the box full of photographs that are at my parent’s house plays an important role there. Photography, in general. But you will see later that I am not the best one to explain why.
I say this because I believe that being in contact, from a very young age, with everything that surrounds you and moves, is stimulating. See how people interact in the street, how the other children play in the park, listen to what a couple of old men are talking on a bench, wander through the market stands on a Sunday morning… a lot to deconstruct in our little heads. But again, that wasn’t my case.
I’ve been living in Croatia for less than two years, and photography has helped me connect with a country that I am still trying to decipher and get to know better. And like me, every day I saw dozens of tourists or foreign students walking through the streets of Rijeka, Split, and Zagreb with a camera under their arms, capturing moments, people, expressions, scenes… it helps us to interpret what is around us, and later it facilitates the communication process with those we love.
But I also thought that it would be incredible to be able to learn more about a country or a city through the eyes of a person who grew up next to that place. And that’s the story of Tonka Lokas, from Šibenik.
A few months ago, I decided to share my photos on my Instagram account. I did not generate the impact that I expected, but I felt curious about learning more from the people who started following me. Especially those based in Croatia, hoping that through their pictures I could learn more about this country and maybe find some inspiration. And that’s how I discovered Tonka Lokas, a 23-year-old nurse, born and raised in the historical Dalmatian city of Šibenik, and her unique way of observing her city through a lens.
Tonka Lokas, from Šibenik
I immediately felt captivated with her photographs, since it is exactly the perspective with which I like to observe what happens in the street every day. It is true that on many occasions we involuntarily criticize everything that doesn’t suit our artistic preferences, but I think that as far as sitting and reflecting if a photograph is good or not, I prefer to think that each one of them serves a purpose. Even if that purpose is to get more likes.
And it is that, in recent years, most of the photographs that I see about Croatia are those taken from the point of view of a bird with a drone. And that’s fine! But it’s just one way to see it. I felt, honestly, that people were ignored. And this is not just in Croatia, but I believe it’s happening all around the world. Tourism? Sure. That’s the purpose, of course. There’s so much to enjoy and discover through our own eyesight. Let’s never forget about the richness of the human factor within the culture. In this particular case, I saw a purpose to tell certain stories that we tend to ignore or pay no attention to when we walk from one place to another in our town or city.
I was pleased to meet a different set of eyes. Ones that observed humanity, emotions, stories, relationships… Almost as if the photographs were taken with them, with each blink. A personal observation through the ancient streets of Šibenik, those that Tonka has been walking since she was very little and that now she photographs with her camera. It seemed to me like an incredible opportunity to learn more about her amazing life story and the city of Šibenik through her words, but especially, through her lens.
Tonka lives in a little apartment with her boyfriend Božo, their baby girl named Marica, and many, many cacti, which in fact she loves a lot. I was surprised to learn that Tonka did not study or is currently studying photography, as I had initially thought. Instead, she graduated from medical school, majoring as a nurse. However, photography has indeed been part of her life as she grew up.
What memories do you have from your childhood? Is there any connection between it and your photography? Are they any photographers in your family?
My childhood was filled with games and fun, especially because of the international children’s festival that takes place in my city every year. I discovered photography while attending one of the festival’s workshops. My family had a little digital Sony camera and I always played with it. That workshop helped me to learn how to use the camera properly, at least as much as I managed to learn at the age of 10. And so began the love of the frozen moment. There were no professional photographers in my family, but my uncle was our family photographer and because of him we have a lot of childhood pictures.
Are you studying, or did you study photography?
I am not studying photography, but I plan to go to Zagreb for a photography course this fall, so I will see what opportunities will open up for me after that.
When did you first realize that photography was your passion?
I think I became aware of that in high school because that’s when I got a little Lumix camera from an old photographer. Exploring all the buttons and settings made me happy and I learned something new every day. I was constantly annoying my friends by taking their pictures, but I have to thank them for putting up with all my ideas and supporting me in the beginning.
It is well said that photographers are artists just like a painter, an actor, or a composer. But why did you choose photography? How does it help you express what you see and feel?
Art is something that makes us alive. For me, any expression of thoughts and feelings is art. As a child, I loved to look at photos and ask my parents to tell me what happened and what they talked about on the day it was taken. The background story of the photo is still my main concern/topic while talking about photography.
How would you describe your photos? What are you trying to tell the world through them?
My first solo exhibition was called ”Notice”. I could even say that this title is my motto in photography. I want to show people what they miss while staring at cell phones or walk with their heads down. I want to convey the emotion of people who know how to be both happy and sad but are equally beautiful. Every person has a different smile, wrinkles, worries… Every person tells their story, although I don’t know the life stories of all these people, I like to imagine myself and I give that freedom to everyone who looks at my photos. You don’t have to be a child to be able to fantasize.
Most photographers that are from, and those who come to Croatia, see it as the ideal place for landscape pictures, sunsets, drone photography… but you seem to be more interested in people. How come?
Croatia is a beautiful country and it sure does get photographed a lot nowadays. I don’t mind seeing other people’s photos of nature, sunsets, landscapes… but when I find myself in nature I enjoy it as intended, without a camera. Ok, occasionally I capture a sunset or two.
Your pictures are mostly from Šibenik. What makes it different from other Croatian cities?
Šibenik is my small town, full of great and creative people and artists. I know it’s every stone and street and I love it’s every single corner. I grew up there and I plan to stay there.
”Every person tells their story, although I don’t know the life stories of all these people, I like to imagine myself and I give that freedom to everyone who looks at my photos. You don’t have to be a child to be able to fantasize”.
– Tonka Lokas
Being a photographer, where do you see yourself in 10 years? Would you like to work as an independent photographer, work for a magazine, agency…?
In 10 years from now? I dream of having a space dedicated to teaching young people and children about photography and doing workshops. I’m afraid that true photography fades slightly due to technology and high-end cameras on mobile phones. It’s all great, don’t get me wrong, but we take it as given, and I like to see it as something more. That’s what I’d like to show to those younger generations; a love of cameras and developed photographs.
Nowadays, we see that most pictures shared through social media stand out for their bright and saturated colors. Why are you choosing the black and white format?
For me, black and white photography has a soul. And it all revolves around the imagination and emotion I want to convey. Talking about street photography, where everything is full of colors, we can say it’s difficult for photo viewers to dig the emotion I experienced taking that photo. People are easily attracted to color, and maybe I’m just in love with a colorless world where we’re all equal.
How is a day in your life? Do you prepare yourself exclusively to take photos when going out? Or do you wear your camera as an accessory and it happens spontaneously?
I always carry a camera on my shoulder. I stop in one place, look around and catch spontaneity in people. We are most honest when we do not know that someone is taking our picture.
Who are your main photography references?
I strongly rely on a feeling while taking photos, so I can’t say I look up to anyone in particular. But some of my favorite photographers are Bruce Gilden, Lee Friedlander, and Diana Arbus.
What are your short-term plans as a Croatian photographer? Are you currently working on a project? Are you planning on traveling?
My next plan is to realize an exhibition that I have been thinking of for quite some time. And of course, to learn, work and thrive in the photographic world. I love to travel, but because of the Covid situation, we all have to be a little more patient.
Besides photography, how would you describe your life in Croatia? What else do you like to do?
Life in Croatia is beautiful and relaxed. As young people, we have a lot of options to travel. My boyfriend and I travel a lot. Lately, it’s mostly around Croatia, let’s say once a month. Our goal is to visit as many islands as possible and of course the entire Dalmatian coast. We are Dalmatians and winter is not very dear to us, so we haven’t started touring eastern Croatia yet.
I work as an emergency ambulance nurse and I love my job very much. As hard as the job is, at the end of the day it’s nice to know you’ve helped someone!
I believe that photographers like Tonka Lokas are living proof that documentary photography or street photography can still tell us thousands of stories every day in a city. I could not count the times that I have made excuses to believe that it is impossible: I do not have the camera I need, I should buy more lenses, due to the pandemic I do not know what photos I could take, maybe this city is not interesting enough… but the Images of this young photographer from Sibenik revive an inspiring phrase that I often hear from time to time: ”If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”. Sometimes that’s all it takes: paying attention.
If you want to see and learn more about Tonka’s amazing photography work and upcoming projects, you can do so by following her on her Instagram account.
You can learn more about what Šibenik can offer you on your next trip in Total Croatia’s Šibenik on a page, HERE. Total Croatia’s articles are now available in your language!
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