If you maintain that there is no catwalk glitz or glamour in Lithuania, upon hearing this, Raimundas Adzgauskas, the well-known Lithuanian photo artist and fashion photographer would probably just shrug it off. Considered one of the best fashion photographers in the Baltics, he deservedly holds another title in the life of glamour - a celeb photographer - who has contributed heavily to building the Olialia brand which, highlighted by a bunch of lustful bosomy blondies, has become a Lithuanian household, and beyond, brand name of soft drinks and leisure goods. He started off by snapping dilapidated and crumbling chimneys of Soviet-era factories with that era’s camera. His ascension to the Olympus of Lithuanian fashion photography is marked by his exquisite look into the world that he likes to twist and bend a bit, in an urchin’s manner. Adzgauskas sat down with The Baltic Times for this interview.
Can you remember your first snapshots? Do they make you grin when you recall them? What was the beginning?
Sure, I can remember them. However, my keen interest in photography started not from this, but rather from gathering good quality, interesting photos from various journals. I remember, when clipping them out, I would think how I would have taken the shots. I recall that the first roll of film lasted for one year. How do I know? There are summer leitmotifs in the beginning of it, and winter scenes at the end of it. Sure, there were no digital cameras back then, so I used what we called back then a “soap” camera [a primitive single-use camera]. Having finished secondary school, however, I decided to relate my future with the craft of sculptor. Therefore, I entered the Vilnius Art Academy’s department of sculpting. Having graduated from it, in a twist of fate, I met our family photographer I had known since my early childhood. I credit him for having taught me the skills of photography I am acclaimed for. To tell the truth, he succeeded in doing that in three months. It was when I started looking for a job as a photographer. I was lucky to soon get hooked up with the owners of Cosmopolitan magazine. That is how I started off on serious gigs. I have been only 12 years in the photography business now.
Who was the person you borrowed money from to buy your first professional camera?
He was the family photographer, Sigitas Platukis, who, sadly, passed away. I still have the most vivid memories about him, and, sure, I still use his pieces of advice. As I said, he apprenticed me with the secrets of photography in three months, when I started shooting on my own. That was when I made a scandalous shot and succeeded in selling it to some magazine.
What was the shot?
(Grins) I took a picture of a corner of a crumbling apartment block in Antakalnis, the prestigious district in Vilnius. There was an inscription under the photo saying that the house is to collapse in this prestigious area. It had drawn much fuss when published in the magazine. It served as an encouragement to look for new, good shots. Soon, when visiting my buddies, nearby at a kindergarten, I spotted on a roof a chimney that was about to fall on the kindergarten. The shot stirred an even bigger ruckus in the media. Probably again in a touch of fate, my sculptor friend’s wife asked me to shoot Vilnius Fashion Days and I eagerly consented. I got in the fashion swirl step by step, meeting the most famous Lithuanian designers, those that I had come across in the Art Academy.
Have you paid back the debt for the camera?
Sure, I have. The gadget was paid off in half a year.
Which photos do you like more: those in black-and-white of the Soviet era, or the modern ones, trimmed up by Photo Shop?
I do not differentiate photography according any periods. I never think which period was better or worse for it. There have always been good photos around. When it comes to the peculiarities, retouching has always been used, only now it is technically different. The main thing is expressions of mood in photo works, as the means are not as much important.
Is it always possible to have a good shot? Are there must-do things before you start shooting?
A good photo starts out from good communication with the person who is being photographed. I never rush to start shooting without having a chat and striking up an acquaintance with the man. If I see that the person I am about to shoot is uneasy, I always put down my camera, sit down and have a cup of coffee with her or him. Sure, we talk a bit to get relaxed. Usually, this simple procedure works miracles, as the individual loosens up, and that is when the work starts.
You have that unique experience combining sculpture and photography. How helpful is this in your job?
Indeed, the sculptor’s experience is very beneficial in photography. It helps me to enhance the impression of form in my photos. Technically, before starting shooting, I always tend to estimate a man’s proportions, which is something basic that all sculptors are taught to do first. I have been all my life in the art environment, and I see photography as a means of art to create.
Was the path to acclaim smooth? It must have been very hard to achieve the stage in art where your own works reap the acknowledgments from the fussiest clients, especially in the fashion world.
Honestly, it has taken me five years to [achieve this]. Over the years, I have learnt how to be patient with my clients, as well as appreciate the work of my team I work with. Believe me, good shots are not only my merit. Only with the entire team can I achieve the best results. It is impossible to have a perfect photo taken on my own. To reach perfection, I need good fashion editors and stylists. To rephrase the known Lithuanian adage, one photographer in the field is not a warrior.
Do you share photography secrets with others?
When somebody asks me to teach photography secrets, I start by telling the person to take drawing classes first. Like a drawer, a photographer has to see all tones, tinges, reflexes and to perceive all the coloring in order to overcome the fears of working in color photography. Here I am talking about freestanding photography, not about reportage photography, where absolutely different rules apply and where you have to learn to anticipate events. Trust me, the photo technique you work with is of the least importance in the business. When I started working, my camera was of a less-known brand than those that my colleagues in editorial offices had. I remember them smiling, when my apparatus used to wind up the last centimeters of film, all rattling. Nevertheless, it has not held me back from finding my own niche.
Let me be straightforward. Do you make a living as a photographer? Is the fashion niche not too small in Lithuania to make a decent living?
Perhaps I should consider myself to be lucky, as I live solely from the work I love – shooting. I am happy to admit that I have enough work, probably because [they] all want to look cute. It is nice to hear an aspiring female singer compliment me that no one has ever taken a nicer photo of her. It is rewarding and inspires me to work further in the field. I feel like a specialist photographer of people, not of objects. It is not important to me what kind of person I see through the lens. In this job you do not have monotony, only a big variety of people.
Would you agree to shoot a notorious politician?
Yes, I do photograph politicians as well. Why shouldn’t I, if there is an order for that? I would call politicians a special category of client. As a rule, they do care a lot about their motions and gestures, and are terribly worried to be misunderstood in the pictures. Some politicians, like the Prime Minister Kubilius, always look ugly in the pictures I see. I wonder whether that is the way the publications want to see him, frowned and hunched over, or whether he is simply disliked by the photographers.
Maybe it is a certain revenge of all artists for what he has done to them? I reckon it is possible to have a nice picture taken of the prime minister as well. In addition, I do erotic photo sessions at the request of Playboy. I find all people, in terms of photography, to be interesting, as only a certain photographing style can be applied to each. I stand for the notion that everything can be shot well. It is always up to the creativity and the right approach of the photographer. I feel blessed if my clients reckon I have these.
You are involved in various fashion work with different Lithuanian fashion designers. Are they of high maintenance? Is it hard to please them? How does the Lithuanian haute couture look through your lenses?
Lithuanian fashion is very diverse. I do not want to sound too harsh, but I would say that only a few designers create clothing for a human being. It seems to me that many tailor [clothes] for some shapeless, sexless creatures, distorting human proportions that I am very well aware of. Sometimes I have this feeling that some Lithuanian fashion designers simply loathe women.
Do you find Lithuanians to be conservative?
I could not say that Lithuanians, photography-wise, are conservative. I think they all have been [bombarded] with erotic photography at length, where it does not surprise anyone anymore. From my own experience of dealing with Playboy models, I know that some of them are very concerned about the public reaction after the nude, or semi-nude, pictures are printed. However, no girl has yet been burnt on the cross or stoned for the photo sessions. On the contrary, some husbands bring their wives for erotic photo sessions in order for the women to win beauty pageants. At them, the men spend a lot of money voting for their other halves by sending SMS messages. To be honest, I have no taboos. There is nobody and nothing I would disagree to shoot for money, especially in these times.
So, is it difficult to shoot women? Are they, particularly in the fashion and entertainment industries, not too fussy and cocky?
Well, no one rule applies to all women. There are several big shots in Lithuania that allow taking a shot at them only from a certain, beforehand-agreed angle. I used to shoot all kinds of celebrities more often some years ago. Now I focus on photographing models that often are “non-standard.” There are hundreds of ways to shoot them, however, my task is to find the optimally best angle and perspective. It is sort of a lottery. In addition, to have a successful photo session, I have to create a good mood, do a bit of chatting to loosen up the model in front of me. Certainly, it is not a job where you can work as on a conveyor-belt method.