“Verses of Emptiness” is a series that compiles unembellished, bare, austere portraits of women anchored in their own internal worlds.

The series began in 2008 as a result of personal unease. The idea that there is a “right way” to be a woman—which I acquired in my youth in Serbia but tried to suspend during my later “lives” in Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany—became more and more troubling as my cultural contexts continued to change and the politics around gender became more pronounced.

Hannah, 2010. C-Print, 75 x 100 cm. Framed © Mirjana Vrbaski. Finalist, LensCulture Portrait Awards 2018.

In this sense, “Verses of Emptiness” is about womanhood—about not knowing what that is, about looking for anchors that feel true, and about finding a way to belong to a gender whose parameters, pressures, and contradicting freedoms are disorienting.

However, this series has always been about a more general human theme to me. I always felt that my focus on female sitters stems from a simple fact that “female” is the “language” I am most familiar with. What I sense in the women I photograph, whose vulnerable yet unblemished purity moves me in the most profound way, is something that is not gender-specific: it is the presence of a deep honesty, an untouched, unsocialized integrity. Photographing them then becomes a process of peeling off their outer, more constructed layers until a more genuine, more universal layer is reached; a layer I can relate to on an instinctive, uncorrupted level. Photographing them becomes like “sculpting” them inwards towards a more universal humanity.

Nora, 2013. C-Print, 100 x 133 cm. Framed © Mirjana Vrbaski. Finalist, LensCulture Portrait Awards 2018.

As an antidote to the adrenaline-spiked chase for the newest and latest (as well as to our over-saturation with self-made images), “Verses of Emptiness” stays close to the notion of “nothingness” as the source of meaning, and slowness as the path to understanding. As such, the series develops with time: gradually, repetitively, and minimally.

—Mirjana Vrbaski

“Verses of Emptiness” was singled out for distinction in the Portrait Awards 2018. See work by all 39 remarkable winners, jurors’ picks, and finalists!