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Art Photobook Reviews

Signs by the Roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

There but for the grace of God.

If I had encountered Miro Kuzmanovic's Signs by the Roadside last year then my reaction to it would probably have been somewhat different, however with the devastation currently being wreaked in Eastern Europe it is a chilling reminder that we all live in a world where our peace and liberties constantly rest on a knife edge, their delicate balance threatened by the avarice, greed  and insecurities possessed by men of power and the dark side of human nature.

As I explained to Miro when I agreed to write about the book, the political spider's web which cradle topics such as this, is not for me to posture and dissect, there are those far more qualified and - I am sure - happy to wade into those waters.

It is the ramifications, the stories, the people that have drawn me to the book.

This is a human story and it is that humanity which captured my attention.

Signs by the Roadside is the distillation of thirty years work which Kuzmanovic instigated in the early nineties at the beginning of the Balkan conflict.

As the former Federation of Yugoslavia was torn apart, tens of thousands Bosnian citizens were forced to flee their homes and country. Many of these refugees were to find new lives in neighbouring Austria and Kuzmanovic was amongst them.

The extensive body of work that makes up the book has been compiled from repeated visits to the area combined with screen grabs and archival imagery. The effect of moving through the book is both disorientating and nonlinear. The sequencing is neither chronological or in any way immediately obvious, however somehow it seems not only appropriate but necessary, the confusion and panic of the time reflected in a dizzying and relentless photographic procession.

Kuzmanovic credits not only his book's title but also the concept of its sequencing, to the late Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić whose similarly disconnected prose derived from a combination of diaristic moments and meditations from his daily life. The culmination of which became the 1977 publication Signs by the Roadside.

"I was very much drawn to his literature, particularly to this poem, because Andric is a novelist working with elements that came from life. Most of his characters have their duplicate in real life, or they arose from life. It reminded me of the path I took as well the signs by the roadside I reflect on now in my photography."

Running intermittently through the book are Kuzmanovic's own words. Elegant and minimal prose, fed out one line per page, each having the effect of stopping you dead, his thoughts meshing and counterpointing the photography. Inviting us to pause along the journey and reflect before resuming his odyssey.

So, here between the pages of this book are the memories of a stolen life. Portraits of victims and oppressors alike, the wreckage of buildings, the ashes of memories. Piles of books like so much kindling and fuel, an education and culture more than likely to be erased in flame.

These pictures need no more explanation than this.

They speak openly and honestly of a period that feels like it should have been eons ago, but in reality whilst this conflict unfolded we were listening to Nirvana's Nevermind for the first time and reveling in Jack Nicholson's iconic performance as he chewed his way through the scenery in A Few Good Men. Effectively this was yesterday, but the enormity of that fact is one most of us have the luxury of being able to turn away from.

It seems Jack was right after all, we just can't handle the truth.

Time after time we are presented with reminders - books, films, documentaries - of the Second World War and the holocaust.

All with grave messianic narration telling us that we must never let this happen again.

We nod and agree and weep for the dead.

We shake our heads and try to comprehend the casual effortless evil of the time that silently spread across Europe like spilled wine on a linen tablecloth.

Yet outside at this very moment, somewhere beyond the slender protection of our liberties, in the distance, the world continues to burn and whilst we may try to deny it the stench of a terrible inevitability seems to grow a little stronger and get a little nearer with every breath.

Yes, there but for the grace of God.

The design of the Signs by the Roadside reflects the austere nature of its material. At 336 pages it delivers its message in its own time, however it never feels laboured or threatens to outstay its welcome. The subtle screened linen boards make no attempt to scream or leap out to grab your attention, instead the shadowy silhouette gazing out from the cover does so with so many emotions, a hard won calm, resignation, acceptance but underlining it all, defiance.

Signs by the Roadside is self published in a total edition of 450 copies and includes an essay contained in a separate softcover booklet.

To order


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