The Riga Photomonth 2016 festival was officially launched on May 12 at the Latvian Railway History Museum with two exhibitions — Territories and Self Publish Riga. Riga Photomonth runs until June 16.
The first Riga Photomonth was staged in 2014, and the event has traditionally focused on photography from the surrounding region of the Baltic States, the Nordic countries, and Eastern Europe.
“Working in the periphery with often marginal cultural phenomena sets many challenges and the outcome is not always instant,” Arnis Balcuc, Programme Director of the festival, has stated.
“However, establishing Riga as a meeting point for those interested in the current, unique, and less known photography in the region is more crucial than having spectacular fireworks. And that is how we can put the capital of Latvia on the European map of photo festivals, where the competition is fierce.”
“Photography has always been related to the quest of meaning,” Alnis Stakle, co-curator of the exhibition Territories, has stated.
“It cannot be stated that photography in this region has had a common history and understanding of the most important events, individuals, and publications. It would be hopeless and too ambitious to look for unequivocal connection and generalisations in the approaches, subject matter, and technologies.”
The exhibition has not been organised with an aim to generalise and find the similarities in the photography of a certain region, but to highlight auteur photography, which, despite the place of residence of the photographer and its sociopolitical events, is based on quests for meaning in place, communication, and memories.
The Territories exhibition focuses on mutual interaction between a place, an individual, and the respective period of time, at the same time posing questions on common and different features in North and East European photography.
The photographer Andrew Miksys, though holding Lithuanian citizenship, was born in the US. Miksys has ten works from his 120 Tulips photo series on exhibition. The series was created over a period of eight years during visits to Belarus for Victory Day and May Day celebrations.
Miksys, originally from Seattle, has lived in Vilnius, a city that he has strong connections with, for 15 years. He first came to Lithuania in 1995, when Vilnius still harboured a depressingly dull and bleak Soviet feel to it. Miksys knew right away that he wished to return and photograph it.
“It inspired me, and I realised right away that it was still Soviet, but you could see the cracks even as the changes were happening,” Miksys told The Baltic Times.
Miksys returned to Lithuania on a Fulbright grant in 1998 for a full year, where he witnessed and photographed the transformation during the country’s most dramatic period from 1998 to 2008.
“In your lifetime there’s not many opportunities where you are going to witness something like that. Especially some place you have a personal connection to,” Miksys said.
Miksys’ project is called Tulips, as during his visits for Victory Day and May Day celebrations in Minsk the streets were lined with a sea of never-ending red tulips.
“I became fascinated with tulips as a symbol of the Soviet Union, of victory, and of spring and photographed them.”
Miksys also became fascinated with the fact that there is a whole different interpretation of history in Belarus.
“There’s a places outside Minsk where a brand new statue of Stalin has been only recently erected, like in 2007,” Miksys said.
“The Second World War in Lithuania is considered a tragedy, but in Belarus it’s also a tragedy, where many horrible battles were fought. But it has also become an important element of their national identity.”
“There’s this part of Belarus, with all its history that’s negative, that’s tragic. Belarus is still stuck in this Soviet situation. It’s not part of Russia. It’s not part of the EU. Geographically, it’s in the worst place place possible still, and at the same time I really started to appreciate it how it is, just the way it is, not trying to make a judgement.”
“A lot of photographers, a lot of Western Europeans, Americans, they go to places like Belarus and want to tell them what to do, how to live, you should have a democracy, adopt capitalism. But after what I saw happen in Lithuania after 1991 it’s very complicated to go through those changes. Lithuania has improved a lot, there’s a lot of great stuff going on there, but at the same time, it’s not settled. With all the changes it has lost a lot of its population. This population is still going down,” said Miksys.
The holidays, though, were a mere backdrop for Miksys’ photographs while looking for peripheral evidences of the world that should be part of the past but is stubbornly resilient in the present.
“In Belarus, Soviet-style celebrations and repressions are not things of the past. This makes picturing Belarus a tricky proposition, for the space between permissible and forbidden is narrow,” Laimonas Briedis, who has written on the work of Miksys, has stated.
“His photographs are not so much a record of Belarus in bloom — an archive of official jubilation — as a diorama of the solitude of the celebration. Elegiac in color, this marvelous expose registers Belarus in disjunction.”
“In his photographs of national holidays, Miksys enters not only the fractured nature of Belarus and its inherently split personality, but also the twofold reality of the country,” Briedis states.
Further artists featured in the exhibition include the Norwegian photographer Sara Skorgan Teigen. Her series of works is called Fractal State of Being, which focuses on Teigen’s own emotions, connecting them to shapes and structures common in their nature. Russian photographer Igor Samolet’s work is based on photographs taken while having followed a group of young people for two years — he witnessed their rave-ups in abandoned buildings, the youths’ reckless use of alcohol and drugs, their senseless experiments with sex and violence, while in the end discovering the emptiness and loneliness they face when returning to their ordinary life.
The work of Latvian photographer Katrina Kepule Sit Silent spotlights the border where “modern Europe” meets the Soviet period, overlapping and conflicting each other. The exhibition also features the works of Latvian photographer Daniels Mekss, Finnish photographer Heikki Kaski, and Belarusian photographer Igor Savchenko.
In conjunction with the Territories exhibition, the exhibition Self Publish Riga is dedicated to photobooks and the self-publishing culture in photography and visual arts. The exhibition features nine collections with more than 200 books from all over the world.
The Latvian Railway History Museum’s opening hours are Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat from 10:00 am-5:00 pm and Thu 10:00am-8:00pm. The museum will be closed on June 10.
The Latvian Railway History Museum is located near the Latvian National Library, at the address Uzvaras bulv. 2A. It is only a few minutes on foot from Riga’s Old Town. The public transportation stop is Nacionala biblioteka.
Parental Advice: One of the photography series on display at the Territories exhibition is not suitable for viewing for children under the age of 18.