Milomir Kovacevic 2013
«Gens una Sumus»
When I came to Paris from Sarajevo in 1995, I wandered through the city downhearted, trying to forget the war, sufferings, destructions… Neither did I know the language nor did I know anyone – the city seemed unreal and dazzling. Wandering around, I saw a group of people playing chess. That was the first thing that brought me back to my previous life: chess matches with my father, aunt and Mirko who bought me my first chess book. It reminded me of my high school, the chess club “Bosna” and long matches in the photo club with Šile, Željko, Mirza…
I was watching them for quite some time, interested and curious, until one day Pepito offered me to play. At that time I played chess pretty well and impressed them with my play. After that, I was seen as part of the group and was able to play whenever we’d met. Finally, I had found my own place where I could feel “at home”. Days and nights passed-by in playing chess. My circle of friends was expending and we had a nice time, in spite of the fact that I didn’t speak French. The place where we’ve played chess (Les Halles) was very lively and crowded. On one side there was a merry-go-round, while on the other there were jugglers, vagrants, tourists and lots of other people coming out of the shopping mall. All of this created a special atmosphere and our game had been part of this picture. I was surprised by the variety of people with whom I played chess – various races, nationalities and ages. There were no problems at all; everyone wanted to play or watch the game. After I had gotten back on my feet, I felt like taking pictures of those people who where an integral part of my new life and the time I’ve lived in. In a cellar near Beaubourg, which I was allowed to use, I installed a photo studio with a table, chess game and lighting. Each time, I’d invite someone of the chess players to play a match with me and take photos of him in a distinctive pose that I’ve observed during the match or remembered from before. Everyone was very open and willing to be part of the shooting, while at the same time wishing to help me carry out my project. At the end of each shooting I would ask them a few questions: how and when they’ve started playing chess and where they’re from.
After that, I went on shooting at the Gallery Nikki (Places des Vosges). At last, it was the G’lthy bar where the shootings took place, since we’ve moved there to play our nightly games. The atmosphere in the bar was great and our circle of players was expanding. The improvised photo studio was on the first floor and each day I would set up the lighting, wait for my “models”, shoot them, and put things back on their place. I gave five photos to each of them. They were very happy about them and told me they looked much better on the photographs than in reality. In the end, I’ve decided to organize an exhibition in the bar. All the “models” came to the opening. Of course, other people came, too. Visitors were able to look at the photos while at the same time watching those same people playing chess right next to them. Those who walked by where stopping at the bar window to see the exhibition and watch the chess matches. I was taking pictures even during the exhibition ending up with 125 photos of chess players. It was really a miracle. Among those portraits were people of 70 different nationalities, with all the races from all continents.
Was it passion, love for chess, love for playing games, a wish for mingling, affirmation, winning or was it just a game in which everyone was equal and had the same chances to win? Was such a thing possible because we were in Paris, the world’s metropolis open to all people or because France is a civil state in which you are able to hang out with all those people? At that time, I would remember Sarajevo, Bosnia and Yugoslavia heavy-hearted when thinking of the people with the same background, culture, mentality, language, and skin color who are unable to live together. Some time after, while coming back from a trip, I visited the bar and found it empty without any chess players. Later on I found out that they had a disagreement with the owner and boycotted her by leaving the bar. Now everyone was on their own: some of us left to the Luxembourg Park, others play at Louvre only at night, the third ones are at Saint Michel, the Yugoslav guys went to the Turk at Saint-Denis, while I found a bistro in Marais where I’m playing chess with Karl, Pierre, Vaso, Fabris or other friends from Sarajevo if they drop by.