Inspirational Women interview with Barbara Čeferin
Barbara Ceferin is a respected photographer and owner of ‘Galerija Fotografija’, a fine arts photography gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Besides being a full time business woman, she’s also a mother to 3 amazing daughters, my cousins. Barbara is my aunt. The cool, full of life aunt that always had something going on but also had time, energy and space for everybody and everything.
Born in the former socialist republic of Yugoslavia, Barbara says she discovered photography while watching her older brother, my dad, develop films in their bathroom when they were just kids. I find that especially interesting because years later, she would be the one that inspired me, her niece, to study fine arts. I loved spending time with her when I was younger. Even just driving around in her car filled with photography equipment and loads and loads of film and negatives. It always felt like we were going on an adventure.
As a young photoreporter, Barbara did go on many adventures. She was one of the photojournalists that documented the short but intense struggle for Slovenian independence in ‘91. She was only in her early twenties at the time and there weren’t many female photo reporters in the business, left alone ones that would chase tanks preparing for conflict. Her published photographs remain a valuable contribution to visual documentation of an event that is an important part of a young nation’s narrative.
Later, while working as a freelance photojournalist and photographer for various theatres in the newly formed democratic republic of Slovenia, she had her work published in most national newspapers and magazines. In 2003 she decided to put her camera down (at least professionally) and open the first private gallery for fine art photography in Slovenia.
The gallery is still of immense importance for making fine art photography better known to Slovenian public and for acting as a forum for those active in photographic arts in the wider Balkan region. Since opening her gallery, Barbara has organized, curated and presented to the public more than 120 exhibitions of international artists and has expanded her gallery to a bookshop as well.
1. Barbara, you’ve had a dynamic and rich career in photography. The world of photography is traditionally dominated by men and a tough business to succeed in for a woman. You’ve taken on many roles in the profession - a photographer, photojournalist, photo editor and at last, a galerist. How did you start working in photography professionally and what drove you to take up so many challenges?
For me photography is a way of life. It’s my life. I felt that way from my early teenage years. When in high school I attended a photography course and my first camera was Wera II, rangefinder East German camera my father lent me. The camera was great, a very good quality with Carl Zeiss lens. What this means regarding the quality of photographs I learned much later. Back then, taking photos and freezing moments, was the most important thing for me. In the 3rd grade I did my internship at Delo newspaper, the largest Slovenian newspaper and I just fell in love with the journalistic life. My father was one of the editors there and I started writing for local news, and by next year I was already in the photo department. Guys there were all prominent Slovenian photo journalists with very different backgrounds. More or less all of them were self taught regarding photography because back then there was no Faculty for Photography Art just one high school with the program for photography. They studied law, medicine, engineering, construction… As I said, very different backgrounds.
I was the only woman then. But I was never uncomfortable with it. They were all great colleagues to me. After finishing high school I started to study Spanish language and Ethnology. During all my studying years I was working as a freelance photographer, mostly for Mladina magazine. After my first child Nina was born, I started to look for a more permanent job and luckily, I got it at Jana magazine, back then the most popular family magazine in the country.
I started as a photo editor at the age of 26. With no experience. But I learned a lot from my chief editor, she had started the magazine and was a journalistic legend in Slovenia. And I formed a very good team of photographers. We had such a good time together for 6 years. Then, things changed and after my second daughter Neža was born, I decided to become a freelancer again. I didn’t like office work anyway. But in the meantime I got an idea about a venue dedicated just to photography art. It struck me so strong that I couldn’t resist.
So I was back on track, starting a new job, again with no experience. But I had a vision. It was a calling. I can’t explain it any other way. Every time in life when I got an idea, I just followed it. Sometimes I had a huge headache because of this, but in the end it was worth it.
2. You’re an owner of Galerija Fotografija, an internationally recognized fine art photography gallery. Your gallery is a space where you curate and present works of international artists to a public that was until recently unused to seeing photography as fine art. Slovenia is still a pretty undeveloped market for fine arts photography and you do an important role in educating the public. What is the personal vision behind your gallery and what do you still hope to achieve?
My starting point was to get photography better known as art to the Slovenian public and Slovene photographers better known to international audiences; to help in developing a market for fine art photography. I still find it challenging to show good photography, as my interest in photobooks grows. I am more and more interested in the publishing of photobooks which takes me, in a way, to my first love - working for newspapers and magazines.
3. You’ve hosted and worked with a wide range of photographers, from aspiring local talent to big international names. What do you look for in the works of other artists to consider showing? When it comes to your process of selection, what inspires you to choose certain pieces?
I follow my gut feeling, of course together with all my experiences and knowledge I collected during the years.
4. I remember that as a photojournalist you always had to be on the move. Your car was full of photo equipment and materials. It was kind of funny how one had to shuffle things around to make place to get in. Can you tell us an interesting photo reporting story from those days?
It was after the war for independence, when the first elections were approaching. At Mladina we were photographing all the candidates around Slovenia. They were from all fields of social life. It was still a time without mobile phones. After some weeks of this kind of work, me and my colleagues were already very tired of traveling around the country and taking photos of all these people. So, one of my last candidates was a professor of psychology at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana. I came to his office and took a portrait of him and left.
When I was outside the office, I realized I didn’t put film into my camera, so there was no photo taken. I immediately returned and entered the room. He was already on the phone speaking with somebody. I didn’t want to admit that I forgot to put film into my camera, so I said that my film tore apart. In Slovenia we have the same expression for saying that someone lost their mind and when a film tears apart.
So, the guy looked at me, and calmly said to the person on the other side of the phone, that he had to stop the conversation because one woman entered the room saying that she lost her mind. The worst thing that can happen to photojournalist is if he or she is on the location of some important event without camera. In 1990 I went with my parents for All Saints’ Day to my grandmother’s in Laško, a small town some 60 km from Ljubljana. The weather was very rainy and, somehow, we decided to take a train. Usually I always took my photo equipment with me but that moment I decided not to. I really don’t know why. So, the whole family gathered at my grandmother’s house, and the rain was so heavy that the river Savinja flooded, so we couldn’t go home because all the traffic was stopped. In one day, Laško was cut off from the rest of the world, and all my colleagues photojournalists were trying to get in. Now imagine, I was there in the center of the floods but without any camera. It was a real nightmare for me. It physically hurt.
I always lived according to my feelings. I never did something just because it was popular or because some people told me to do so.
I always lived according to my feelings. I never did something just because it was popular or because some people told me to do so.
5. Even though I always thought you had such a cool lifestyle, I now know it must’ve been exhausting; working full time as a photo reporter and raising your oldest daughter at the time. And yet, you’ve always had so much energy! How much did you consider your health and well-being back in your twenties and how did that change over time, until now?
I think I was already lucky to be born with more life energy then the average person. But when I look back I realize that many times I was taking it for granted and wasting too much of it around. The good thing is that I always managed to listen to my body, and with the years, I also learned to listen to my inner me. What also changed from my twenties to now is that I was living either in the future or in the past, rarely in the present. Now I know how important it is to be present in the now, in the current moment.
6. You’ve always been sporty. When you were younger you windsurfed, played basketball, ran… but after a knee injury you had to stop and had trouble finding an activity that would keep you interested. Regardless, you’ve kept on exploring new ways of keeping active and always stayed fit. Aerobics, yoga, pilates...I know you’ve tried it all. What do you look for in an activity to keep you going and how do you maintain your physical condition now?
After my knee injury I had to stop with basketball and that was not easy for me because I loved it. After that, I tried aerobics and fitness, but I didn’t like either. After Ana, my 3rd child was born I started with pilates and this was really a very good exercise for me. A few years later my pilates trainer Špela Perc (Smart Movement) brought a gyrotonic to Slovenia. From then on, I can’t live without it because it is the best exercise for my body and despite all the injuries that I suffered during the years, it keeps me fit. I get the best result if I practice it 3 times per week and run 2-3 times per week. The problem is that I am sometimes lazy and, especially, during the winter time I am in slow motion regarding exercise.
A few years ago I got a back injury. It was one of the hardest periods of my life, when my parents died, and I had a feeling like Pandora’s box opened. One day I just laid on the floor and couldn’t move. Luckily, I had a chance to go to the best physiotherapist and in just two hours she managed to put my back in such a condition that I was able to walk home. This was also possible because despite all my laziness I train enough that my body is in good condition. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to recover so quick. And gyrotonic was the only exercise that helped me as I was recovering. But as you know it is not all just physio, you also have to put, and keep, your spirit in a good condition. Your life is complete when these two go well together, hand in hand.
7. When it comes to keeping fit, some people seem to have it easier than others. We’re all built differently. As someone with a background in fine arts, I could say the same for being an artist. Some make it look like a walk in the park while others struggle. You’ve worked with a wide range of artists, from emerging local talent to established international names. What do you think is crucial in success?
To achieve success in every field one has to be organized. The same is with art. Even though people like to say, oh, he/she is an artist, when it comes to scheduling a project on time. For example, he/she is late, not finishing things on time… Artists are living and reacting differently from other people. Usually, they are more fragile and emotional. That is why they see things differently from others and they create art. But if you are professional and want to do big projects and exhibit your work in professional venues, you have to be organized. At least you have to have a good gallerist who, other than being your representative, also plays the role of your mother, financial consultant, friend, nurse… just kidding. But, if you have a good galerist who helps take care of other things, you can dedicate yourself to just creating.
8. With running a business and bringing up 3 children how do you find enough time for yourself? What does work-life balance mean to you and how important is “me-time”?
I think that each decade in your life brings different things to you. Entering 40ties brought to my life a very nice energy, and gave me more confidence at work as well as my personal life, as a women. Now I am in the beginning of my 50ties, and I hope they will not run by so fast as my 40ties did. Before I did everything for others, and at the end of the day, if there was a few extra moments just for me, I didn’t even know what to do with them, despite needing them so much.
With the years, you have to learn how to put yourself in first place, and just the awareness of me-time is very important. Children grow up and they don’t need you anymore to be around all the time, so you have the opportunity to take me-moment more frequently. You have to relax and take advantage of the maturity you gained with the years.
9. You’re very conscious of your health and the health of your family. You always have a cupboard full of natural supplements, you pay a lot of attention to what kind of foods you buy and how you cook. Why is that important to you?
I always lived according to my feelings. I never did something just because it was popular or because some people told me to do so. I never really liked junk food so I didn’t have problem with that, but my problem was stress and when I was around 37 I started to have big problems with acid in my stomach. A few times it was so hard that I had to go to the hospital for a couple of days. Then I made some nutritional changes. I stopped drinking milk, eating white flour, and for a few month I didn’t have any red meat, coffee, alcohol and sweets. Even before I was eating red meat maybe a couple of times per year. Now I hardly eat any meat. Not just because of the fact that I feel better without it, but also because all the entire food industry became terrible. Raising animals just for food, feeding them to grow faster... It is not ethical nor healthy.
10. As a mother of 1 adult woman and 2 teenage girls what healthy habits do you hope they will pick up from you?
My husband and I can’t start the day without breakfast, and seeing two younger daughters not doing the same during school time is a challenge. I am sure, over the years, they will change this and start to eat in the morning on days other than just holidays. I already see the change as they’re starting to realize that they feel better when they start the day with a meal.
But, I am also aware that there is not just the one and only way. Each person has to find their own way, and find what makes him or her feel good.
11. How do you see your life changing in the next 10 years, what would you still like to achieve? How much do you think about your health and well-being when planning for the future?
I really like my life. And I am aware that with the coming years being in a good, healthy condition will be even more vital. In the life we are living we can hardly avoid stress, but you have to keep it to a minimum. Take time for yourself and for your loved ones, family and friends. This is what counts at the end of the day. And I have to add… getting enough sleep helps.