Petra Cvelbar, photo by Žiga Koritnik
Petra (born in Ljubljana, Slovenia) became interested in photography fairly late, in the final year of grammar school, when her friend was looking for someone to apply with for a photography course. She was fortunate to have been initiated into the world of photography by prematurely departed painter and photographer Dušan Pirih Hup. Together they delved into the basic of photography starting with camera obscura, for many hours locked into the darkroom of KUD France Prešeren or lingering in its vicinity, looking for motifs for various assignments. She had some group exhibitions, displaying the fruits of this explorations.
When a student (Faculty of Social Sciences, Cultural Studies), she pursued photography on the theoretical level, whenever possible integrating it into seminar papers, and even graduating in photography. As one needs to work for a living – and she knew that books did not interest her much – she searched for an occupation where at least some creativity was required. During this time she considerably neglected photography and dedicated herself to studying and exploring graphic design. Currently, she’s holding the post of Art Director of the Slovene edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.
In 2008, her interest in photography was rekindled by invitation to exhibit in Bohinj during the Kanal Festival. Her solo show, presenting photo shots during the previous ten years, was titled My Favorite Guitarists. She has always been drawn to music, either as a listener or photographer. In Bohinj she met also a great slovene photographer Žiga Koritnik. Ever since his workshop (2009) she has been addicted to photography and music, both of which today form an integral part of her life. She finds music a remedy and invigorating boost of energy. The photos she takes during the concerts are her way of sharing the beauties of the world, which is so nice to rediscover and abandon yourself to.
Some photos from previous years are on Jazz italia web page.
PETRA’S PHOTO EXHIBITIONS
- 2022: In Woman’s Hands – solo photo exhibition at Gallery Faculty of Social Science, University Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2020: ArtPhotoActs – group photo exhibition at Gallery of the Marktgemeinde St. Johann in Tirol, Austria
- 2018: In Women’s Hands – solo exhibition at Jazz Festival Leibnitz, Austria
- 2018: In Women’s Hands – solo exhibition at Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2018: Sweet Addiction – solo exhibition at Gallery of the Marktgemeinde St. Johann in Tirol, as part of artacts festival, Austria
- 2018: Zlatko Kaucic: 40 years of playing – group exhibition at City Library, Kranj, Slovenia
- 2017: “Jazzy-ga! and pupils” – group exhibition at Jazz Cerkno Festival, Cerkno, Slovenia
- 2016: Sweet Addiction – solo exhibition at Hisa Kulture, Smartno, Slovenia
- 2016: In-between-space – group exhibition at Loski muzej, Skofja Loka, Slovenia
- 2015: Sweet Addiction – solo exhibition at Skopje Jazz Festival, Skopje, Macedonia
- 2014: In Women’s Hands – solo exhibition at Stockwerk Jazz, Graz, Austria
- 2014: Double Vision – group exhibition at Festival Unlimited28, Wels, Austria
- 2014: Portrait Mats Gustafsson 50 – group exhibition/projection at Porgy & Bess, Vienna, Austria
- 2014: In Women’s Hands – solo exhibition at Layer House, Kranj, Slovenia
- 2013: Petra’s World – solo exhibition at Jesharna, Skofja Loka, Slovenia
- 2013: ‘This is our music!’ – group exhibition at Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2013: Petra’s World – solo exhibition at Ljubljana City Library, Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2013: Jazz-World-Photo – group exhibition at Jazzinec festival in Trutnov, Czech
- 2011: Sweet Addiction – solo exhibition at Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2010: An Impressive Collection – a group exhibition at Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2008: My Favorite Guitarists – solo exhibition at Festival Kanal Bohinj, Slovenia
- 1998: KUD France Prešeren Photo Workshop Annual Exhibition – group exhibition, Slovenia
- 1996: KUD France Prešeren Photo Workshop Annual Exhibition – group exhibition, Slovenia
- 1994: KUD France Prešeren Photo Workshop Annual Exhibition – group exhibition, Slovenia
Photo Exibition Sweet Addiction // photo by Žiga Koritnik
ABOUT PETRA’S PROJECTS
About her project Sweet Addiction through Luca Vitali‘s eyes:
The essence of beauty of music… condensed in a glance. This is the feeling Petra’s photographs have raised in us in these last years: that of an immense beauty!
These photos are her personal way to illustrate the charm of the world and share her passion for jazz. It is of vital importance to her to achieve this goal and surrender to such charming addiction.
“Sweet Addiction” – what better name for one of her exhibitions? – recalls the sweetness of her smile, her love for music and its advocates, but also brings to mind the power of her framing and her musical tastes.
Yes, Petra loves venturing into seismic musical matter to be handled with care, so far from the mainstream track. Free Jazz and improvised music is the area in which she has managed to create a noteworthy space and a reputation, standing out for quality and distinction. Many must have noticed these talents of hers, since records with pictures of her on the cover or in the liner notes come through my hands time and again…
Petra’s world is made of inspired moments, whose leading characters are always shown in the best light. An amazing job whose roots lie in a particular poetic vein and does not need to resort to such contemporary “tricks of the trade” as desaturation and contrast –which seem to gratify many of her colleagues who end up depicting a world that is merely populated by synthetic masks, as of Plasticine. Petra’s subjects retain their human, vibrating side and her tale is one of empathy and art: she does not intend to capture with special effects, but emphatically takes part in the creative process, the unexpected, the epiphany which demands respect and observation… since, above all, Petra loves music and respects its exponents. She is not the “ruthless” photographer you often chance to meet at festivals mercelessly taking rapid-fire pictures – in a continuous “annoying” movement just few inches away from the musicians. She moves soft-footed and captures moments of creativeness unperceived, unaffectedly and with great discretion.
Every shot stands between two moments of listening, mid-way between the eyes-closed and the eyes-open state: watchful and powerful eyes knowing well how to catch real gems in just one second.
“Sweet Addiction” is more than just an exhibition: it is Petra’s personal journey to quell her addiction to jazz music.
by Luca Vitali, 2015
About her project Sweet Addiction through Ken Vandermark‘s eyes:
There are important parallels in the history of development between photography and jazz and improvised music. Photography began to find its voice as an art form when it moved away from an attempt to replicate 19th century painting conventions and entered the modernism of the 20th century. As that happened, photographers were present to document artists who were creating one of the most important and influential music forms of the new century. Fans and critics gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of jazz and improvised music through iconic images taken by photographers like William Claxton, William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Val Wilmer, and Francis Wolff; of artists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman. The music kept evolving and photography kept changing, both art forms incorporated different aesthetic ideas and innovations in technology as the century progressed. Now- in the beginning of the new millennium- the profusion of music that can downloaded or streamed online, and the superabundance of images that can be taken and viewed on every phone, has created a situation that can make it very difficult to actually be heard as a musician or seen as a photographer.
Petra Cvelbar is special in this regard. Her photographs are much, much more than the now typical shots of people onstage playing their instruments. The work stands out, it is individual. She does what few photographers have been able to do since the early 20th century- truly capture an improvising artist “in the moment.” This is an ongoing challenge because- both from the standpoint of the musician and the photographer – it’s a moment that can’t be planned, it is unpredictable and takes place during a spontaneous course of parallel action between the player and image maker. Despite these complexities, Petra Cvelbar has been able to indicate the 21st century reality for this music by showing individuals in the midst of creating or as characters in an instant of candid attitude- being human and who they are, as improvising artists and as people.
by Ken Vandermark, 2018
About her project In Women’s Hands through Sonja Porle’s eyes:
The first thing you notice while looking at Petra Cvelbar’s musically inspired photographic images is how incredibly colourful they are, even though shot in black-and-white. Colourful, lively and vibrant. The thought occurs to you that these photos were made by a person who truly enjoys her work. This impression of cheerfulness and serenity is so overwhelming that the thought, of all the hard work that must have been put into making the end-products look so effortlessly created, doesn’t even enter your mind. And that’s how it should be. After all, the apparent ease and simplicity are the fundamental qualities of every genuine work of art. If an artist fails to conceal the exertion involved in the creative process – once wrote a celebrated poet – all his or her endeavours have been in vain. But it might also cross your mind that Petra is a photographer who mainly relies on her ears, her sense of hearing or her musical ear, whereas her sensitive eyes and reliable hands only serve her to record what she has heard, as consistently as possible. That Petra does not actually take photos of artists but employs the photographic language to depict the surge of emotions aroused in her by music. To this end, she utilises a palette of interlacing feelings, ideas, and messages, conveyed either through playing, singing, and dancing, or merely through hand gestures, meaningful smiles, or the closed eyes of a performing artist.
Petra Cvelbar is undoubtedly a photographer of moods, offered to us by the magical and the never-fully-explored-or-conquered world of live music, if only we are willing to surrender ourselves to it. Petra is not only devoted to this world, she is also serving it with great devotion. She is openly and passionately in love with it. And, maybe, this is why her photographs are such a sight for sore eyes. It is well known, after all, that love sharpens one’s sense of beauty and excellence. However, it is not only the pictorial compositions and the motifs that are beautiful, the musicians on Petra’s photographs look very attractive too, the female musicians, on top of it, look seductive, truly beautiful. The lady musicians, it seems, especially appeal to Petra’s artistic sensibilities. In part, this is probably because she can identify with them more easily and, consequently, experiences their music more intensely, but most likely, she simply finds them more interesting than their male counterparts, also as personalities. She shows them utmost respect and tact and does her very best to show them in the brightest light possible. That is why the heroines of her photos also exude self-confidence, determination, and firm trust in the quality of their work; that is to say, all the qualities that we have until recently – caught up in the logic of historical circumstances – ascribed almost exclusively to their male colleagues. And it is highly possible that Petra’s gaze is focused on female musicians also with the aim of drawing attention to some deep-rooted, yet misleading and harmful, beliefs. For example, she gives a warning about how pointless, if not plainly silly, it is to ponder over differences between male and female creativity, when we can clearly see and hear that art is universal, and refuses to be categorised as good or bad (given that bad art doesn’t proclaim itself as such anyway), let alone as male and female art. Nevertheless, we can engage with art in either a masculine or a feminine manner. Petra’s approach is feminine; this simply cannot be overlooked in her work.
It is also impossible to overlook that Petra’s work has much in common with the works of the grand master of musical photography, Žiga Koritnik. Which is completely understandable; after all, Petra and Žiga not only share an enthusiasm for the same music genres, primarily jazz, but also the same (ie. small, Slovenian) creative space; they often take photos at the same concerts, at the same time, from virtually the same angles. But curiously enough, in spite all of this, their photography does not look alike. It’s as if, at the moment of creative impulse in their mind’s eye, each of them is focused on their own particular detail or fragment of space. Moreover, they each value time – that key element of their craft – in a different way. While Žiga builds archetypes, and thus pulls down the walls of time, Petra seeks to halt the flow of time, thus celebrating a given moment in her works. With the zeal of a born optimist, Petra assures us in each of her images that we are doing just fine, right here right now; that curiosity, merriness and freethinking spirit are honourable human traits; that life is beautiful and kind despite all the hardships that we might have endured; and that it becomes, when touched by women’s hand, even for a tiny bit more beautiful, happy and perhaps, only perhaps, even a bit more just.
by Sonja Porle, 2018
About her project In Women’s Hands through Ursa Valic’s eyes:
When Petra Cvelbar invited me to write the introductory words to this exhibition, I immediately gathered some literature, rolled up the sleeves and wrote a fighting feminist text in the style of academic intellectualism (imbued with male dominance), with whom I have spent the last few years. Pretty soon Petra and I find out that this will not be the thing, and I came to the conclusion that I was writing more about myself than about Petra and her photography. Questions, to which I usually address to are in a rather pessimistic scientific vocabulary, but Petra addresses them in imminent generous naivety and with a great deal of optimism. While I discover in her photographs fighting spirit and resistance of photographed musicians, which defy traditional society and its gender roles, Petra talks about them in a manner of growing egalitarianism, which was achieved by hard and persistent work. And she is so right! That is why her photos are so different. Petra’s photography emphasizes the determination and excellence of the musicians, who may be seen in this way from her own experience, when she turned out at one of the major jazz festivals in a crowd of photographers and concluded that a good photography needs beside good technical knowledge also the ability of a different view and insight. Perhaps this is why female musicians on 27 black-and-white photographs are much more dynamic, active and strong, as in many mainstream photography from popular culture, in which women appear as either a sexual icon, either as housewives and mothers in a rather passive role and tangible (such as dolls, which can be discarded after use and replace). Petra strongly believes in the equality of creativity, which is too often differentiated by gender and is in this sense also evaluated. There is no qualitative differences in male and female creativity, but it is possible to feel in some background of photography or music quite different social experience, which encounter in the gallery or under the stage with the experience of the viewer or listener. Personally, I see this different experience in the game with stereotyped images of women in some Petra’s photos. Take, for example the photo of the hands of Matane Roberts, holding saxophone. These hands remind us to almost archetypal image of a mother holding a child. In our mind had (willingly or not) imprinted image of the tenderness of women’s hands, especially the mother’s hands that caress. Or a photo with legs of Kim Gordon, who as model’s legs walk on the music stage instead of the catwalk. Petra at this point discontinue with the safe haven of images of social non-correctness: a woman is not solely a mother or a fashion icon, is a musician, her hands create, as well as men. I think that this is also the reason why her photos of musicians are so different. They are breaking classic representation of women in society and are recording musicians at the time of the action, their explosive and energetic creativity like for example photos of Mariza, Neneh Cherry, Omou Sangare, Fatoumata Diawara and others. The spectator is recreating the concert at her pictures, but at the same time he sees the subtlety optimistic narratives about women and femininity. Above all, the spectator can be convinced by the quality and beauty of creativity that is in women’s hands, which is Petra Cvelbar giving us through pictures.
by Dr. Ursa Valic, 2014
About her project In Women’s Hands through Irena Štaudohar’s eyes:
For Annie Leibovitz’s photography book Women, her partner, the intellectual Susan Sontag, wrote a long introductory essay in which she stated that since the beginning of photography, of the utmost importance for a woman was to be beautiful, while a man had to be bold, defiant with an upright posture radiating a social status.
But what I remember most from this essay is the story about how photographers used a special trick when portraying a woman. Just before being photographed, she was asked to slowly pronounce the French word: “Petitepomme.” When uttering the last “m” in the word, her lips would purse, her cheeks lift, and a dreamy shadow would fall on her face with a naive and cute look in her eyes. And that’s exactly the kind of woman’s face sought to be captured.
Later, the woman in the photographs became primarily an erotic object. The history of photography is, in a way, a story of the domesticated woman on the one hand, and the story of the woman as a sexual object of desire on the other.
However, the female musicians in Petra Cvelbar’s photos are something thoroughly different. It’s a distinctive genre. It must have been difficult to capture the lady musicians in the frame because they seem to be so free. While exploring them in the photographs, I think about how hard it is to avert the gaze —from their mouths, their hair, their eyes, and the instruments that are part of their bodies. The photographs are almost three-dimensional. Moreover, their faces are stories that can be read and flipped through like musical scores. Some are wild, and some are melancholic. Some are happy, and some are sad, like the sad song they play. Indeed, is the sadness that sad love songs arouse in us, our sadness, or the sadness of the song?
Female musician on stage! What a power! The rhythm of a woman’s body on stage is different from a man’s body. It is like a heartbeat in her body. The man on the stage plays his part and plays the very music while a female musician turns her soul inside out as one turns a glove. She is strong and fragile at the same time. Melodies echo within herself and shine through her eyes.
Music and women! What a unique synthesis of energy! I recall Tolstoy, who was always afraid of music as it would make him uncontrollably overwhelmed by emotions. He used to have physical reactions to music. When his family sat around the piano enjoying the tunes, his eyebrows and his facial muscles suddenly began to twitch accompanied by a feeling of strange pressure in his throat, so he rushed to hide in the next-door room and burst into tears. “What does this music want from me?” he desperately wondered. He feared that the music would reveal something in himself that he was reluctant to show to others. He feared that he would be flung by a wave of sensuality and as he would no longer manage to control his behaviour. He had similar feelings about women. He felt hatred and fear towards them, they seemed alien to him. “What do women want from me?” he questioned. Women and music were a special metaphysical experience for him. And yet this bearded Russian created the most beautiful female characters in the history of literature. How perfectly he described Anna Karenina when she fell in love with Vronsky and felt her pupils dilate, her fingers and toes twitching vividly, and how something inside her took her breath away. Although he was afraid of women, he knew all about their inner world and their bodily sensations: the boiling milk in the mother’s breasts, the gurgling cold that washes over the shoulders of a young girl who is for the first time at a dance. Tolstoy believed that there were two great mysteries in the world – music and women. Both were his great fear and great inspiration. This exhibition juxtaposes them in its own way and unfolds them before our eyes. The mystery becomes the inspiration that life pours into.
by Irena Štaudohar, 2023