Sarah Pannell is an Australian documentary photographer with a case of wanderlust. Schooled in international relations, Sarah first picked up a camera while studying in the Netherlands. The urge to explore never left—since 2008, Sarah’s kept off the beaten track to capture the strange, humorous and poetic. She shares this series of wild blues and solitude, shot while journeying through the Balkan Peninsula.
“I generally travel alone, and this time I was drawn to the Balkans through a friend of mine who had spent a lot of time doing research in the region for her Masters. In my eyes, she’s a bit of an expert, particularly on Bosnia and Serbia, and she had shared some fascinating stories that sparked my curiosity and interest in learning about the history of former Yugoslavia. After doing some research and attempting to educate myself about a deeply complex political, religious and social situation, I decided I really needed to go there for myself. Since I feel it’s a rather misunderstood part of Europe, I wanted to come back with images that challenge people’s perception of the Balkans.
I wanted to see what had changed since the war-torn era of the early ’90s and how these countries were growing as independent nations. That’s not necessarily what my images set out to explore—as an outsider travelling through these countries, I felt it was important to have an open perspective. It was interesting travelling through border crossings between countries that just two decades ago were one. I had no real expectations of what would come from these travels.
With only a day or two in Bulgaria, I captured this [image, above] while walking around the capital Sofia. Though a city without the best reputation, it still offered notable moments; and as I passed through one of the subway stations in the middle of the day, this advertisement stood out against the backdrop of the deserted city.
Bled is a small town surrounded by rather picturesque countryside of lush green fields and seemingly never-ending mountain ranges on the Austrian border. It took me longer than I would like to admit to work out what the red line through the road signs mean in this part of Europe. It became evident one morning when I walked to another nearby town and passed by this sign!
I was with Billie, a fellow traveller I met in Belgrade. We ended up in Montenegro together and while out one night, we met three Brits and decided we would all hire a car the next day to drive down to some beaches in the south. In the morning before we went coastal, we drove up a long winding road to Mount Lovcen, an incredible peak that looks out over Kotor Bay. From here, you can see all the way to Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia. This little village was tucked away in the mountains on the way up. While there are fascinating cities such as Sarajevo, Belgrade and Ljubljana, the real charm of this region is in the countryside and the slower way of life in the rural and small coastal areas. Where do I look for inspiration? I’m driven by new experiences and the prospect of seeing new things and meeting new people who can help broaden my perspective of the world”.
In early 2015, as part of Photobook Melbourne Festival, Sarah exhibited ‘East of the Euphrates’ in Melbourne, her first solo show, which explored Turkey’s southern Kurdish region. To coincide with the show, she released her first solo self-published title, ‘Şehir’, documenting the transition occurring throughout Istanbul’s central neighbourhoods. Sarah is currently based in Melbourne, Australia.