Adrien Selbert, Tito’s Ghost, 2020, from the series The Real Edges
Between 1992 and 1995, the Bosnian War saw the death of over one hundred thousand people and displaced more than 2.2 million. The war was led by Bosnian Serb forces following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and is widely seen as leading to the rise of the term “ethnic cleansing.” Thirty years later, the citizens of Bosnia still grapple with the aftereffect of the war, even more so in light of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine—leading to the question: Is there really an end at the end of war?
Photographer and filmmaker Adrien Selbert has been making work in, and about, Bosnia since 2005. Selbert has been interested in examining the long-lasting traumas and aftereffect of conflict on a place and its people. His previous works include the film Nino’s Place (2010), which follows a mother’s struggle to find the body of her son who disappeared during the war in 1995, and the series Srebrenica, From Night to Night (2015), which documents the lives of young adults living in the shadows of Srebrenica’s war atrocities.
In 2016, Selbert began his series The Real Edges, a portrait of contemporary Bosnia as it exists in the aftermath of its war trauma. Over the course of four years, Selbert returned to Bosnia more than thirty times, traveling throughout the country, creating photographs of its people and landscapes. “The idea of this in-between time that we call ‘post-war’ always fascinated me,” Selbert states. “In Bosnia, war is no more, but it is not yet peace. It is the time comprised of the dash between those two words.”
This concept of “in-between” threads throughout each of Selbert’s moody vignettes. Working with both color and black-and-white, the people and locations Selbert documents are cast in a hazy veil of dark greens, blues, and grays. The scenes depicted in The Real Edges offer an ambiguous look at life in Bosnia, which Selbert has described as “a strange and turbulent coma.” A man walks along a railroad track, his figure clouded; two lovers lay in the forest hugged by dark foliage; a pair of young men rest in a set of ruins in the countryside. Though Selbert’s series functions within the documentary genre, the photographer is more interested in the impression of realness than its actuality, stating, “It’s about transcribing a sensation of this country, rather than describing it.”
The Real Edges does not aim to provide answers or solutions, instead it offers an unwavering, intimate study of a country still trying to resolve its past—and perhaps, a warning of the ways war extends beyond its battles. As Selbert states, “This project is like the never-ending dash between the war and its aftermath.”
Adrien Selbert is a runner-up for the 2022 Aperture Portfolio Prize, an annual international competition to discover, exhibit, and publish new talents in photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition.