A close link between history, land and man: Californian-born Nick St. Oegger tells the stories of Albanian communities and raises awareness to the importance of preserving untouched places through his photographs.
Nick St. Oegger set out to be a philosopher in the beginning, and later on wanted to pursue legal studies. Photography was only a hobby for him, up until he faced a turning point: “I saw a documentary about war photographer James Nachtwey randomly which really opened my eyes. I never thought of photography as a means of change, but when I realized the potential in visual storytelling, every inch of me urged me to pursue this career. I had to start from square one, until I finally got to know my way around this profession and I found the niche on which I really wanted to focus. This was a very dominant and personal journey for me” – Nick told us.
The Balkan is a little bit like a mosaic: nationalities, languages and religions mix in it. There are developed, developing and quite underdeveloped states, too. Even today it remains to be a territory which no one really talks about, it’s not a frequent tourist destination and the majority of the people still consider it potentially dangerous. Nick wishes to alleviate this negative perception through his photographs, and to present this Balkan world in a different angle: “When I first came to this part of Europe, I was blown away by the beautiful landscape, the fascinating history and the hospitality of the people. I felt that I wanted to tell stories shoeing that things have now changed and not every stereotype is true.” – Nick added.
He first travelled to the region in 2013. He ended up in Albania intuitively and spontaneously, and he keeps returning to the country to capture various stories since then.
In his photographs, he examines issues like how history determines the relationship between man and the land, or how a rural traditional society relates to the various environmental interventions. “In the past years, I approached my projects from an environmental perspective. The rise in using water energy influences the entire West Balkan area. This has a lot of components, including sustainable energy production or global warming, but there is also an apparent tension between people considering this solution modern and the rural people relying on their land. The Balkan is mainly characterized by rural settlements, especially Albania – this applies less to Western countries. I find it interesting to explore how people still lead a natural life in this area.”
His photobook titled Kuçedra is also centered around the problem of water energy. It focuses on the story of the Vjosa , the last natural, unregulated river of Europe, reaching across the southern part of Albania. According to the plans, several hydropower plants will be established in the area, which would change the condition and environment of the river, and several thousand people would be forced to leave their homes. His photographs capture the pristine river and the people and villages in its vicinity in their original condition, so as to visually document the land should the hydropower plants still be made.
Another important photo series he made is „The Lament of the Mountains” , documenting the everydays of the malësorpeople living in the northern regions of Albania. The malësor, or highlanders, pursue a traditional way of life and make their living out of agriculture and shepherding. Their territory is one of the rare places where the traditions of transhumance are still kept and preserved. According to Nick, water energy is also a source of problems here, as several smaller dams are built on the Alpine rivers. This endangers biodiversity and also jeopardizes the water supply of the population.
Nick is currently living in Bosnia and is planning his next photo series, once again to be captured in Albania:“I have been living in Bosnia since the past year, but I would love to return to Albania – I have many great friends there, and I consider it my second home” – he added.