Veteran photographer finds new life

  • 2006-02-15
  • By Tyron Hutcheson
VILNIUS - "Fifteen years - I practically didn't pick up a camera," Vitoldo Vilpisausko says over a brandy after a full week of work. During the Soviet era, Vilpisausko took part in an early exhibition of young photographers in what he thinks may have been the Vilnius Photography Gallery, where he currently is one-half of a two-man show with Vito Karciausko. "Miesto Mistika" ("City of Mystery") presents a highly-colorful, strange vision of contemporary Vilnius' landscape.

He hasn't really done all that much since the end of communism. Photography didn't pay that well. And he found himself enjoying the fruits of "wild capitalism." At one point, he was a ski instructor in the Caucasus.

"Anyway, in every country to survive from art is practically impossible," he says.

But a few months ago, he picked up a digital camera for the first time and decided to start his old career anew.

"For [the first] four or five days I was only reading the manual," he says. "[D]igital is a very practical thing."

Though he may be a beginner with the new technology, his images reveal a practiced eye and skilled hand.

And though economic problems remain in Lithuania, modest personal success has allowed him to return to photography.

"Now I'm working to restore my studio," he says. "Maybe in half a year, step by step"

Vilpisausko's trying to get into commercial photography. "We are looking for Western markets," he says. "I know the prices in Europe and I know our prices. We are cheaper." Of course, "advertising is not photography. It's just business."

Still it's all better than it was in the Soviet era, when "90 percent [of his work] went into the box. My heroes [for subjects] were alcoholics." But the Socialist Realism aesthetic forbade such work. "It was black times," he says.

The scars of that experience remain. When I asked him to speak Russian, he declined. "I'm not against Russians as a people, but 50 years under Soviet occupation, it's enough."

Will he ever bring any of that old work out of the box? "I think no, because old is old."

The artist declines to comment specifically on photographers he likes in Vilnius: "For myself, it's not so very polite. It's a small city, I know everybody."

As for the next generation, he says, "We have a large number of good professional potential."

In the past, there was a huge generation gap between photographers who were only 10 years apart in age. He gestures to show the height of a young person. "Now my colleagues are…"

"I need maybe half a year to make something interesting," the photographer says. "Another exhibition will be only social photography."

He'll be taking pictures of "people, not walls."

"Miesto mistika"

("City of Mystery")

Stikliu 4

Until Feb. 25