500 faces that don’t hide


From Kosovo 2.0

“Put your face down, serious, don’t smile.” Click, click, click. Layla Barake (Freiburg, 1981), is fast to capture with her camera what she calls an honest face that doesn’t hide. That’s what she is looking for in the portraits she has been taking since this edition of Dokufest started, in the improvised DokuStudio at the Theranda Hotel. The goal was to take more than 500 close-up photographs showing the faces of the directors, producers, film fans, and neighbors of the city of cinema that have been walking the streets of Prizren this last week.

We caught up for a little Q&A, and were the number 472 on her list of portraits. Each person photographed by Barake had to leave their full name and a comment saying something about change, following the festival’s theme. Today, Sunday, following this interview, the goal of 500 portraits was accomplished.

K2.0: How did this idea come out?

I’ve been living here for six years, and as a photographer I really wanted to contribute somehow to Dokufest and the city. I wanted to do something but not as a photo reporter. So, in the end, I met with the organization of Dokufest and we ended up with this idea.

K2.0: The idea is that people come here to this little improvised studio and let themselves be photographed. They also have to leave a quote saying something about change. Which are your favorite quotes at the moment?

There are some that I liked, but there is specifically one that I found very original. A young lady came and wrote, “Dokufest tastes so changelous”. She just invented a word. I like it.

What’s the approach for these portraits? When taking mine you asked “Put your head down a bit, look serious, no smiles…” And all the portraits are taken following these instructions. Why?

It’s the simplest way to take people’s portraits. They appear honest, direct, and not hidden. The theme of Dokufest is “Change, don’t hide,” so I’m as well sending this message. Don’t hide it, face it, face the camera.

K2.0: Tell us, how has it been these last few days, are people coming by themselves, being drawn by a friend…?

I have two great assistants that are helping me a lot. They have been going out from the hotel to the streets to find people that would like to be photographed. They also found people from the city, older, younger… Then others were hosted here and saw it, or just knew about the project and came by themselves. I photographed directors, actors, actresses, producers, and inhabitants and visitors of Prizren…

K2.0: There lots of interesting people these days here. Who are you missing among your portraits?

I really wanted to photograph Christian Frei*, [Oscar nominated filmmaker, director of War Photographer among other films]. The thing is that somebody even used my car to drive him here! And I haven’t been able to catch him. Also there is Tinka Kurti, an Albanian actress I’d love to take a portrait of.

[*After doing this interview, we found out on Sunday that Barake got Christian Frei’s portrait. He was number 500.]

K2.0: What’s going to happen to all these portraits after the edition of Dokufest ends?

At the moment they are being uploaded on an album in the Dokufest’s Facebook page. There is already a plan to continue the project with an exhibition. There will be more information about it in the future. But for me, this is a starting point. I’d like to bring this project to the whole Kosovo, and take portraits of people from the country, to later publish a book with all the photographs.

K2.0: What brought you to Kosovo?

I came as a visitor first in 2007. It was a time when there was a lot of exposure for Kosovar Albanians coming back to Kosovo. It grabbed my attention. I had just finished the school of photography so I packed everything and started to have the first connections. In the beginning I was coming every second month, but now I live here.

K2.0: To finish, say something about change.

As I wrote for my portrait (taken for this project by an assistant), change brought happiness to my life.