It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Matt Lutton has been awarded the burn Magazine’s ‘Emerging Photographer’ award. The surprise came not from the fact that Matt won the grant, but that a work on a region long forgotten by mainstream media, received a recognition that it so deserves. So when these two slide came up on the burn magazine page, I shouted with glee!
Matt and I have had many conversations about his work in the region. Matt first arrived here in 2007 for three weeks as part of a 12wk study abroad around the region (the program, from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is from, was called ‘Understanding the Balkans’) Upon completing that he came back for some weeks in 2008, before deciding to base himself in Belgrade. I remember Matt telling me back in 2009 that he had…
…a number of things ‘cooking’ here from Belgrade, and there is much to be done country wide. I’m still exploring the space and mentality (even last night I met a 21 year old university student who had never met an American before, very interesting)
Since then Matt has sent this work out to a number of grant committees and I have had the honor of reading some of his proposals. I remember a conversation we had via email where I encouraged Matt to consider developing his Kosovo and Roma works further and diversify his Serbia stories. But Matt’s response was clear and vehement and I hope he will not mind my quoting it here:
Serbia is the story I must do. I see this project…as the culmination of all the different projects I have been working on since I started in this region. It all flows back to this idea of Serbia and the effects, internal and external, of the Milosevic years. And it is an idea that has me in the best position to follow through and produce something with impact. Call it my dream project, if I am able to construct my Serbia project it would be the embodiment of my idea on using documentary photos in a highly charged political atmosphere to create more connections between thinkers. Challenging creation myths, for starters, will have huge ramifications, and this thrust in to the Serbian political instrument is calculated for impact. At its base I am trying to pull a project together than demonstrates the substantiated conclusions of my time in the region and shows the public and government what an American photographer sees happening in the country he has adopted.
I am glad that Matt did not just follow my advice and stuck to his guns. Mind you, his Kosovo and Roma work remains fascinating and important, but it was only after this exchange that I finally understood that Serbia was more than just another photo story for Matt. It is conviction, self belief and a passionate vision that sees the start of something substantial and worthy. I am really thrilled to see this work finally get the recognition it has long warranted.