While pursuing his BFA at the City University of New York (CUNY), Croatian-born Hrvoje Slovenc, assistant professor of photography at County College of Morris (CCM), traveled to Kabwe in Zambia, Africa, on a grant.
“I documented one of the top five most polluted places on earth and the pollution’s effect on the people and the environment,” says Slovenc. Kabwe is saturated with lead pollution, a byproduct of copper mining. “It was inhaled; it was in the food and the water. People who owned the mines abandoned them and no one took responsibility.” Working in collaboration with a writer, his collection of photographs was published in a book in Croatia so the poverty-stricken villagers in Kabwe would not be forgotten.
The unusual project typifies his long and winding journey in life, from being the Croatian national champion in track and field during his adolescence to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biochemistry, only to leave them behind to pursue a career in art.
He applied to the La Guardia Community College in Queens, New York, which offered a photography degree. “I didn’t know much about photography. I was 26-years-old when I developed my first photograph, but I knew immediately that I loved it and it was what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from CUNY, Slovenc earned an MFA from Yale University School of Art. His photographs have been exhibited in dozens of shows nationally and internationally, and he has work in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, Croatia.
Slovenc has taught at Parsons The New School for Design. In 2012, he began teaching at CCM.
He stresses that success depends on learning the importance of failure. “When you make art, you have to fail in order to succeed,” he says. “The point of education also is trying and failing, and through the process discovering more about yourself. I really enjoy working with people in class who are trying to figure out what their own path is in photography. Being surrounded by people who love photography makes me a happier human being.”