Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2008: Lucia Nimcova „Unofficial“

Winner 2008: Lucia Nimcova

The images of the winning series in 2008 were taken in Slovakia. Taking her home-town as an example, Lucia Nimcova documents how time seems to have stood still since the fall of the Communist regime. Even years later, people and places do not seem to have changed at all, almost as if time had passed them by unnoticed and without a trace.

In the past decades, Nimcova has devoted herself to the study of life and development in Eastern Europe. In 2006, her research led her to the public archives of her home-town of Humenné. While viewing documents, she noticed that apparently nothing had changed there after the end of communism and Slovakia’s joining the European Union in 2004. The photographer searched for communist relics in the present, visited public institutions and cultural events. She returned to some of the places she remembered from her childhood, and captured the fascination of a time apparently unaffected by change. She met people who still have the same public functions as years ago. Places and institutions have stood still in the past, and former times even live on in events and political discussions. Everything seems to be frozen in a time loop where political and economic developments pass by unaffected.

“I took enough time to find my own visual language for what I wanted to communicate in the ‘Unofficial’ project. I have learned to enjoy timelessness while researching topics, before taking any pictures.”

And this is exactly the fascination of the winning series, “Unofficial”, which tells more of a story than a first glance reveals. The photographer captures everyday scenes with nudge and a wink, eliciting a smile from the viewer while setting him thinking. The style of Nimcova’s pictures closely matches the social realism imagery of 20 to 30 years ago. This was a deliberate choice. Nimcova began by studying original pictures from the city archives, and then proceeded to photograph the same or similar social situations. She aims for authenticity. “I even try to reproduce the mistakes made by the photographers back then.” She developed the work by establishing relationships between the pictures and highlighting the contrasts. “Many places have not changed at all. When I go into a room, I often know how the materials will react to the light.” The photographer has a deep appreciation of the differences between photography as an event and its operation in private and official life – the ways in which moments in both spheres are captured, some emotionally and some seemingly neutrally, by the snapping of a shutter and the final selection.

“LOBA helped my work become more recognized by the photographic society.”

Looking back, the photographer reports on the great recognition she received from the Leica Oskar Barnack Award during the Rencontres d’Arles: “I felt very privileged that people from different cultural contexts were interested in reading my coded messages and spent some time understanding them. It was a nice feeling, after many years working in photography.”

(Text updated 2020)

Lucia Nimcova

Lucia Nimcova was born in 1977 and studied at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam. She lives and works in Humenné and Addis Ababa. Her work has received many awards in recent years and has been presented in numerous international exhibitions.

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