Hometown poetics

  • 2012-04-11
  • By Antra Feldmane

WORKING FOR A LIVING: Egons Spuris offers his own views on life in Riga.

RIGA - Egons Spuris is truly a legendary person in the Latvian photography world. His work, from the series “Riga’s Proletariat Regions of the 19th - beginning of the 20th Century” was the only photographic work included into the Latvian cultural canon back in 2009.

Exhibition hall “Arsenals” has just opened an exhibition of Spuris’ works called “A Place with an Outstanding View. Photographs.” This exhibition showcases 350 works that are mainly dedicated to Spuris’ love for the city. It will show different, fresh aspects of how to look at the place where we live our every day life.

The artists’ creative style began quite similarly as with other photographers from his generation, in the 1950s. He was born in 1931. His first exhibition was held at a photographic equipment shop on Marijas Street. He graduated Riga Polytechnic Institute as a radio engineer in 1962. Experts say that is why his work turned out to be very precise, rational and systematic. Spuris applied to a prominent photo club in Riga, which helped him to improve his technique and creativity. In fact, he was the first who received a gold medal from FIAP (Federation Internationale de l’Art Photographique) in 1971.

In 1975 Spuris started to manage the Ogres Photo Club, where other great photographers improved their artistic styles.
From 1960-1970 Spuris applied for more than 350 international exhibitions in 48 countries, all while teaching at Ogre Photo Club. He then started to work with his collection dedicated to Riga’s neighborhood quarters, especially those where he lived: Avotu, Matisa, Krasotaju Streets. He used to show formerly simple, even inexpressive walls of houses where working people made their homes. Children played between those grey, even depressing, walls of proletariat houses. Spuris showed a very unobtrusive and calm attitude, while his works showed a poetic atmosphere. He thought that photography has to be free of mainstream thoughts, that they should be good, creative work. The only valuation system for him was his own critique of himself, not of others around him.

Such works as “Bride” (1970), “Inertia” (1968) and “Vibrations” (1967-1972) show his specific method in producing a photo. These pictures represent strong contrasts in lighting, expressive manner, and harmonic composition. While dedicating his collection Riga’s Proletarian Quarters of the 19th - 20th centuries, Spuris said during one of his interviews: “There is hardly a thing in those quarters worth loving. But between those walls people from the countryside moved to those city barracks, tried to plant flowers and then hide them as some kind of a treasure from a botanical garden. People are able to inspire this environment. Unfortunately, it might be otherwise, too. I do not try to stick to social or urban, or human aspects in my photos. It is too heavy to carry for one single artist. I have just tried to make images for 25 years, and to copy them for around 10 years.”

Spuris used to say that he only tried to collect small pieces from his memories, feelings and city moods. What is most important is that he, even earlier than other artists, actually saw the city this way. The current exhibition is a contribution to Latvian photography itself and shows unique artistic language that was so refreshing during the 1970s. Although Spuris died in 1990, he was an impressive teacher for Andrejs Grants and other artists who have continued an excellent, innovative method in Latvian photography art.

The exhibition “A Place with an Outstanding View” at the “Arsenals” features photos from the collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art and from the artist’s family collection. The photographs in the series “Bremen” at the Goethe Institute are all owned by the photographer’s family.

Exhibition will be held through May 27.
For more information go to: www.lnmm.lv