Matt Lutton

Only Unity: Serbia in the Aftermath of Yugoslavia and Milosevic


“Only Unity” has emerged from five years of living and working in the Balkans; it is my personal response to the confounding atmosphere of the region. My project presents a psychological portrait of Serbs from across the Balkans as they confront a radically changed landscape within physically contracting borders. Serbia is emerging from the hangover of the 1990s, where atrocities were carried out in their name just across newborn borders, and constructive reflection about the consequences of those years is long over due.

I am photographing details of society that both reflect and undermine the popular Serbian creation myths. Many issues are rooted in the complicated phrase “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” which was popular in the narrative of mass political manipulation during the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the wars that took place in its vacuum. Serbia is still recovering from the post-traumatic stress of those years, leading to a national confusion about their identity and a productive path forward.

There are many elements that contribute to a hostile and sometimes desperate atmosphere in Serbia today. But there too are moments that show healing and a glimpse at a different future than many have seen for themselves in the last decade. The growing pains of this nascent democracy must continue to be carefully documented and explored, as the battles of the 1990s have yet to be finally played out. I’ve experienced alarming apathy and lack of compassion from many youth across the Balkans, and I hope to confront them directly with a different picture of the countries and history they will inherit. I hope my pictures will help bridge local borders, real and imagined.




Matt Lutton (b. 1984) is an American photographer who has been living in Belgrade, Serbia, since 2009. He was raised in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies and Comparative History of Ideas. He is the co-founder of the online photojournalism website Dvafoto, which began in 2005. His project “Homeless in Seattle” was awarded a grant by the Alexia Foundation for World Peace in 2007 and was exhibited at the Seattle City Hall in July 2008. The Anthropographia Award for Human Rights and Photography selected his project “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” about the destruction and relocation of the Roma community living in Belgrade, Serbia, for their 2010 traveling exhibition. His current project about the Serbian emergence from the Milosevic decade and its role in post-war Balkans is titled “Only Unity” and was nominated for the POYi Emerging Vision Incentive in 2010.


24 thoughts on “Matt Lutton – ‘Only Unity’: Serbia in the Aftermath of Yugoslavia and Milosevic”

  1. First and above all congratulations!
    As much as I like this essay and it’s photos I must admit I do find it very, very hard to understand what’s going on without the captions. I dont get the feeling really of any confounded atmosphere throughout the essay, but what I do see is a selection of very good and catchy images which is great. But change the captions and it could be about any previous Eastern Block country.

  2. Micaël Martel

    Absolutely well deserved, a great essay. I grew up with the images of war happening over there, it’s really nice to see what going on over there now.

  3. What a wonderful essay with everything you could ask for, including a compelling reason for it to have been done at all. I love the normalness. It’s amazing how life carries on. And I love how the tensions seep out. May this award be a boost to take your work further up and further in.

  4. First, congratulations on a series of compelling and even beautiful images, no question. However, as someone who lived in Belgrade for a year in 2008 (and has distant Serbian heritage), I do take issue with the way these pictures portray the country as a pretty shitty and backward place to be, which to be honest is rather misleading.

    There are of course struggling backwaters, but they are not representative of an incredibly vibrant culture that – flashes of ugly nationalism aside – is hard to match in the Balkans. The energy and sophistication of Belgrade is completely ignored in this essay, and while one might argue this is not its point, I find it a little sad that those who know nothing of Serbia will view the essay and come away with the impression that the country is a triste and melancholic place – it is not.

    I can well imagine the trademark warmth and hospitality with which Matt was welcomed by the locals, and I fear they would be disappointed to discover that this was how he viewed them. Pictures can be a bit dangerous in this way.

  5. Super fotke, al svakako bih se slozio sa @franco/m, mislim da je reportaza nepotpuna jer si prikazao samo jednu stranu , neko ko ovo pogleda svasta bi posmislio, a ti najbolje i sam znas da nije ovako kako si prikazao… pozdrav iz Beograda..:)

  6. Congratulations to Matt! I’m regular visitor and fan of DvaFoto.
    I have only one question: Why are there five pictures of Roma people from Gazela settlement? The problem of Roma people, or Gipsies, is irrelevant for true picture of contemporary Serbia. If it’s there to point out the minority problem, there is more important problem of Muslim and Hungarian minority in Vojvodina and Sandzak.

  7. This is but another sad example of a western photojournalist painting an entirely skewed picture of Serbia based on an education chock full of New York Times, BBC and CNN propaganda. The essay shows nothing of what Kosovo has become, a NATO military base. It shows nothing of the remnants of the NATO bombings, it shows nothing of the remnants of over a decade of internationally imposed sanctions.

    What appalled me the most is that Americans are still obsessed with these faux humanitarian crusades and that they continously send back skewed impressions of the world. Mr. Lutton is clearly concerned only with showing off that he went to a place off the beaten path for most Americans, and in turn painted it as a backwards hellhole to make his photos seem more important. The fact that the essay claims to tell story of Serbia in the wake of the the wars that broke apart Yugoslavia is laughable, laughable.

  8. zdb22222222222

    I’m going to have to agree with amarinovich on this one, but it’s still clearly the best of the finalists…

  9. There’s a nice interview with Lutton in the new PDN about this. He gives much more detailed information about where he’s coming from. The EPF is mentioned. Don’t know if the link will work for non-subscribers.

    It would be nice if Burn were able to provide interviews like this to go along with essays. I know it’s most likely impossible given the realities of the operation, but I’ve often thought it might be possible to put together a small stable of potential writers/interviewers and offer them to the photographer whose work is going to be published. Any fee arrangements would be between the writer and the photographer. But for the EPF, I think it would be nice if it were part of the ritual for David or someone interview the winner about the work to accompany the publication of the essay. Big money is involved and much attention is paid. I think something like that would further the award’s, and Burn’s, reputation.

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  11. Wow. Amazing work. Kudos and congratulations are in order for being a finalist!

    As an academic dealing with the former Yugoslavia, I understand that there are a myriad opinions on the topic and that any essay will be construed as false in some way, from some direction. It’s too bad, and one reason why honest dialogue is missing on the issues that plagued–and still plague–the former Yugoslavia.

    On your work, which is excellent, I have nothing but good things to say. I think that it deals with the “hangover” from the 1990s (and 1980s, in many ways) and the “post-traumatic stress” of the recent conflicts there. While it cannot be exhaustive–and I don’t think the artist claims it to be, nor was it intended to be so–it is visually excellent, and emotionally haunting.

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