A talented young photographer from Belgrade has successfully merged his two passions into a lucrative venture. Mark is creating art-nude photographs featuring the most exquisite Russian supermodels of our time! 

Marko Smiljanić, a photographer from Belgrade, has been living his childhood dream for several years now. In front of his lens stood the most beautiful Russian women of today, and famous models around the world. At the age of 25, he has collaborated with prominent companies worldwide, including Opel, Hewlett Packard, Rebel Athletic, Lisca, and KILLSTAR.

This young man’s job seems to be traveling the world, visiting interesting places, meeting even more interesting people, learning about their customs, traditions and food, and photographing gorgeous women.

Sounds incredible, right?

Setting travel talk aside for a moment, Marko has also brought a number of innovations to portrait photography in Serbia, country where he is from, introducing elements of alt subcultures (such as gothic and metal aesthetic ) to his portrait work while infusing it with a touch of erotic. His art frequently seems to be sparking strong reactions among domestic traditionalists.

As the child of a lawyer, all the predispositions were in place for this rebellious young man from Petlovo Brdo to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a Law degree, after completing his studies in Japanese Language at the Philological Gymnasium. However, fate intervened, and during his third year at the Law University of Belgrade, Marko decided to turn his childhood hobby into a profession. In his own words, he took a bold risk and putting everything on the line, which ultimately proved to be the best choice.

''My wish was to combine my two greatest loves: portrait photography and traveling, and if possible, turn it into a profitable business. With a lot of work, many sleepless nights, and a bit of luck, I managed to achieve it.

After completing my studies, I initially thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. However, during my third year, I came to the realization that I was destined for something different. To the surprise and horror of my family, I decided to pursue my dreams. My parents, of course, didn’t agree with this idea, as they believed that photography should remain a hobby, thinking there was no financial stability in that field.''

During that time, I found myself at a critical juncture, weighing the decision to fully commit to photography, to take a leap of faith, and put everything on the line, or settle for a regular job with predictable nine-to-five schedule.

''Through a twist of destiny, around that time, I’ve met my current girlfriend, Elena, who happened to be Russian. She had been a professional photographer, shooting mainly fantasy work, and over the course of years, managed to make it profitable. She expanded my horizons, showing me that photography can truly be turned into a profitable venture, and that it could be a way to experience the beauty of life and travel, but only if taken seriously, and with a great deal of effort. ''

Marko has always been a fan of darker rock and metal music and his love for it could be seen in a lot of his works.

Brave, bold, and often darker portraits fused with sophisticated eroticism, became recognizable style trademark of this long-haired Belgrade native, who has, from the very beginning, refused to adapt to the commercial and popular shooting style.

''I find it entirely natural that the music I listen to and the social circles I have been a part of, have influenced my artistic style, as is the case for many other artists and people in general. It’s just the environment I am surrounded by does not closely align with the prevailing mainstream trends of today. ''

I sought to strike a balance between elements that would resonate with a broader audience, and those that personally captivate me, thereby imprinting my work with a distinct personal touch. I wanted to avoid conforming to a generic artistic style solely for the sake of making it a profession, and I genuinely wanted a viewer to be able to recognize my shooting style among other photographers' work.'' —
explains Marko.

He explains that he has always been drawn to the ''Russian school of portrait photography'', where eroticism is displayed in a different manner compared to how boudoir shooting style looks in the Western world, therefore, it comes as no surprise that he initially ventured into the challenging Russian market.

The choice to merge his love for female beauty and traveling, he made on his first long trip to Thailand.

''The first country I traveled to by myself was Russia, which offers incredible opportunities when it comes to photography, that I could only dream of, back in Serbia.

Moscow, a city with 12 million inhabitants, and it boasts dozens of well-equipped studios where I have found a lot of inspiration to work in. New ideas and collaboration opportunities emerge daily in this vibrant city.

For a young boy from Serbia, who didn’t know Russian language and didn’t have a sufficiently impressive portfolio to offer, getting the first shooting booked, and a while later — a first job, among such intense competition, had been a dream come true.

Even before I met my current girlfriend, Russian women had always been an ideal of beauty for me —
Marko says.

''With my girlfriend, and her best friend, a part Russian, part Asian beautiful girl Tanya Tsoy, I’ve embarked on my first long Thailand trip back in 2016, and this is where that idea of combining portrait work and traveling came from, something that you can still find in my work.

Having worked with the most stunning women in Russia, who are in high demand by top brands today, and delving into the subject of beauty and superficiality, he asserts that these women are often unjustly labeled as arrogant and shallow. However, the truth is often far from these assumptions. Interestingly, it is often men who lack finesse and social skills when approaching them that tend to assign such labels.

He has also learned from personal experience that a large following count on Instagram does not necessarily correlate with arrogance and a superiority complex, as one might expect. To his surprise, he encountered numerous women he worked with who shattered his expectations with their genuine kindness and down-to-earth nature in real life.

In contrast, earlier in his career, he has had a number of bad experiences when collaborating with girls in Serbia, who were heavily influenced by their fake Instagram statistics, acquired through paid followers, and overly edited photographs. According to him, compared to cities with nearly ten times the population, truly famous models in Serbia are a rarity, and those that consider themselves famous are hit with the worst case of superiority complex.

''Models with several million followers on social media platforms are often subject to rumors of arrogance, but my experiences have been quite the opposite when working with renowned girls. One important realization I’ve had is that their success is a result of their exceptional professionalism, and they truly deserve the recognition they receive.

Initially, I’ve had fears that none of my suggestions would resonate with them and that they would dismiss the ideas of a small photographer from Serbia without much consideration, expecting no more than a cold rejection. However, I soon discovered that my concerns were unfounded as they embraced my ideas with openness and enthusiasm.

Throughout the years, with many of my models, our professional collaborations have blossomed into deep friendships. Beyond what we do professionally, we’re trying to seize every opportunity to reunite when our paths intertwine.

In Serbia, being a small and still conservative country, there appears to be a different approach when it comes to creating erotic art, or perhaps I’m not fully acquainted with the local mentality regarding the type of photography I am interested in. Despite my overall negative perception of prospects of creating in my own country, I have been able to assemble a small team of exceptional girls, for example Nadja and Milica, two courageous Serbian beauties, with whom I collaborate here as well” explains Marko.

He finds the social value system of his own country to be perplexing and inconsistent, as the media is saturated with nudity, vulgarity, and “low-quality” content aimed at the general public, while anything that deviates from the norm in a different way, that is midly controversial, or provocative, is met with criticism. However, once it all enters the realm of tabloids or reality TV, what was shamed and criticized yesterday — suddenly becomes acceptable and celebrated.

“It’s interesting to me how something that is generally criticized becomes completely accepted when served by a popular trash TV show or tabloids. Whether it’s a piece of clothing, behavior, or a particular style, it seems that it only becomes accepted after it appears on a talk show hosted by the most irritant presenters you can imagine, and we have a lot of these.

I know many models and photographers in Serbia who have great taste and fantastic ideas, but they are not allowed to experiment because the environment simply doesn’t permit it.

I must also say that I feel the situation has slightly improved in recent years, but we still have a lot of catching up to do”

''However, working in this field, nothing bothers me as much, as the emergence of a large number of photographers who view erotic photography as a means to approach women and look at nude bodies, or as a tool to address their own frustrations. This not only tarnishes the perception of photography among models and observers, but also distorts the true essence of what photography should represent.

While it doesn’t necessarily have to be high art, photography should possess a touch of elevation and beauty that sets it apart from everyday mediocrity or, in worse cases, trashy content'' — asserts the photographer

When asked about his beginnings in photography, he jokingly remarks that he managed to combine gothic and erotic.

…And speaking of gothic —  For many years, Marko has been working as the official photographer of the world’s largest gothic festival, which he describes as the “essence” of freedom.

''What I look forward to every summer, is the Wave Gotik Treffen, the Gothic festival in Leipzig, which I cover as the official photographer each year.

It’s a period of several festive days during which the locals mostly leave the city, renting out their houses to tourists visiting the WGT festival.

During these five days, the city allows everyone to express themselves without fear or moral constraints. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something immoral as it may be initially perceived.

During the festival you might find everything and everyone, from underdressed bdsm and leather fetishists to lavish victorian style outfits fit for the most flamboyant historical movie or a theater show.

People tend to think that everything at such festivals is sexualized, completely missing the point. The festival is perhaps most reminiscent of the Carnival in Rio, just dressed in black, ” adds Marko.

In a conservative and smaller country such as my own, it’s expected that the kind of tolerance I enjoy to see, is lacking to say at least. The smaller the community, the more people will turn their heads away from anyone who is styled differently than themselves, throwing insults or expressing visible disapproval. This is a common issue of every village and in small cities like my beloved Belgrade, and it stems from not understanding. That is something I fight to change, speaking my mind and trying to encourage others to do so. The change has to start from somewhere.

It is openness to different ideas that has influenced the development of art in general and it’s something that inspires me, thus reflecting in the photos I create. When I work, I don’t pay attention to the fact that I live in a fairly conservative environment. I’ve learnt to accept hate just as I’ve learnt to accept praise. Setting on this adventure I’ve realized you can’t please everyone, and accepted the possibility of being disowned by parents and relatives'' — Marko adds with a smile.

In addition to being regarded as one of the most authentic photographers in the region, Marko is highly respected as a retoucher in Europe and holds the highest position as a photo editor in Eastern Europe. This reputation greatly assists him in attracting new clients and opportunities.

Last year, he has successfully started a portrait photo editing school where he teaches photo-editing classes to his students and his Complete Portrait Photo editing Course has been attended by over 1200 students!

''The professional world of retouching is quite different from the “overly airbrushed” look, that various masks, filters and one click solutions have gotten us all used to.

The essence of quality photo editing, is not seeing the work done on a photo. The goal of high end skin retouching processess is that that they are not the first thing you see, even when hours of post-production work have been invested in the photograph.

All the beauties on advertising billboards have gone through a lengthy process of photo editing, even when the photo appears completely natural, and this is how you know that it is quality work.

On the topic of trust and ethics Marko says:

It is possible to change someone’s appearance through retouching, and I understand that people lose trust in what they see on the internet because of it.

I receive so many questions from people asking me about how the girls I work with look ''really''

I firmly stand behind the fact that even if I retouching is something I do well — the girls you see on my photos are as real as they can be.

While I enjoy photo editing, I don’t like creating extra work for myself. The process of selecting models for their natural or surgically enhanced beauty, often takes me much more time than the actual photography and editing combined.''

Beautiful journalist Jovana and I, during a very long coffee catch up.
Thank you once again for the opportunity, it was a pleasure!
Marko Smilyanic

Behind the Shot ⚡