You might say that Nikola Olic is an engineer. It's what he studied at University of Texas at Arlington and he's been working at a healthcare software company he co-founded, Doctor Alliance, since he received his degree. But you might also say he's a classical pianist, a professional BMX flatlander or a photographer who takes fascinating pictures of downtown Dallas' architecture.
Olic arrived in North Texas from Belgrade, Serbia, in 1992 as an exchange student at Arlington High School. When war in Yugoslavia prevented him from returning the following year, he decided to make North Texas his permanent home. As a teenager, Olic had gotten into flatlanding, a style of trick BMX biking similar to breakdancing. When he got to Arlington he was surprised to discover that by chance he'd landed himself in one of the hubs of the sport.
One of his first days in Texas, a kid whipped out in front of him on one of the bikes and in his thick accent Olic explained that he was new in town from Serbia and also did BMX. The kid invited Olic to join him and his friends at the next competition, and Olic is still close with those bikers to this day. "Five exceptional riders were within 10 miles of me, " he says. "It was a complete coincidence. I had never heard of Arlington, of course."
Olic was part of the original group that brought BMX, invented in California, to Serbia. He and his buddies always broke their bikes playing around with them, and he'd been curious about BMX ever since he saw the essentially unbreakable bikes in magazines. He found a way to purchase them when he traveled to Canada in '87, and by '89 he and his friends were competing throughout Europe. Olic still competes professionally 30 years later; most recently in Houston.
In a sense, Olic's interest in photography began with those BMX magazines he read as a kid. One that he regularly read had a weekly game where readers would try to identify a bike part based on a close-up. "They would say, 'This is a part of a bike,' and it’s a macro photo of a ball bearing," he says. "The next week they would tell you what it is. I was 13 years old and it blew my mind."
Instead of bikes, however, the subject Olic chose to apply this technique to was architecture. He had worked as computer support to put himself through UTA in the '90s and often found himself spending time working on the architecture professors' computers. Back then installing Microsoft Office wasn't a 10-minute process. Sometimes it took up to six hours, and he would get to talking with the professors about their field of study.
Olic purchased his first DSLR and began taking long walks around downtown Dallas to photograph the buildings. "I would walk around for 10 hours taking photographs and have 500 photos from that one day," he says. "It would be the 110th photo of that one building that I would find interesting."
He developed a technique in which he would make an initial visit to take a shot that captured as much of a given building as possible, which he would later review to uncover an angle that would portray the building in a surprising way. The result of this approach is that his second and final photographs make buildings that you may pass every day on your way to work look totally unfamiliar.
Olic is drawn to architecture because he appreciates how much time and thought go into designing and constructing buildings. "I just imagine that this building took years of people drawing and saying, 'No, let’s do this,'" he says. "I often want to look into the architect and ask who are they and why do they do this. All of it is interesting to me."
His favorite is Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, whom he admires for his clean and abstract lines, a fascination that comes through in his photographs of Dallas, which he edits sparingly. Most often, all he does to edit the photos is crop, and adjust brightness and contrast.
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Sometimes Olic's marathon photo sessions have attracted the attention of the cops. "When I was photographing the Fountain Place building on Ross, a police officer asked, 'What have you been doing? You’ve been standing at three different spots taking photos,'" Olic says.
The same thing happened at the Federal Reserve building in Boston. But Olic isn't deterred. "I do know my First Amendment rights," he says. "It hasn’t happened a lot."
Olic's pursuits outside of his software day-job don't end with photography and BMX. He studied at a music academy in Serbia and still performs classical piano weekly at Open Classical's open mic at Buzzbrews on Lemmon Avenue. "Everything is a labor of love," Olic says. "Even software. Anything that is lovely, I try to labor at it."
To view the rest of Olic's photographs, structurephotography.org.