A man looks at items for sale at shop in Sarajevo’s Old Town. Some of the local metal workers are turning discarded bullet casings and shells from the war into items that can be sold to tourists, part of a growing war tourism industry in Sarajevo. Two women take photos of the city of Sarajevo from an elevated vantage point. For more than four years from 1992 until 1996, shells and sniper fire rained down from these very hills onto the citizens of Sarajevo.
The images were etched in photographer Nick Otto’s mind as he recently traveled to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Desaturated and monochrome images of war and destruction from the 1990s. The siege of Sarajevo had been the longest siege of a major city in modern warfare. San Francisco-based Otto aimed to tell the story of a city still mired in a long recovery from the fog of war, with high unemployment and a lagging economy. However, when he got on the ground and started working, a different picture began to emerge.
“I quickly realized the city looked very different to me than what I imagined,” said Otto, who had been looking at images of the siege and aftermath by photographers such as Ron Haviv and Gilles Peress. “I initially wanted to do something on the unemployment rate. It was going to be the city’s current struggles on the 25th anniversary of war. That was the intent and the story is definitely there, but I found myself drawn to the color I was seeing around the city.”
Otto abandoned the idea of a deeper and darker story. He was struck by the light and vibrancy of the city. “The scars of war are still there,” Otto said. “The war is never far removed from any conversation. But what I tried to capture was more of the day-to-day beauty.”
Pedestrians are reflected in the window of a closed dress shop in downtown Sarajevo. Signs of the war are still visible in many of the buildings around Sarajevo. A Muslim girl and her friend walk near a graffiti-covered wall in downtown Sarajevo. The city continues to display a diverse mix of religions and ethnicities in spite of its troubled past. The Sarajevo landscape is pockmarked with cemeteries both big and small. A constant reminder of the nearly 14,000 people killed over a three-year period. Here, the Mezarje Stadion Cemetery butts right up against houses. Locals walk through a day market set up near a freeway bridge outside the city center. Sarajevo remains at the crossroads between modernizing and tradition. Two young boys play in the hills just above Sarajevo. The threat of landmines still exists in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. The owner and chef of this traditional Bosnian restaurant looks out onto the streets of the Old Town as evening sets in. This restaurant has been in the family for generations.
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