Lithuanian Photography: yesterday and today 2003
Compiled by Skirmantas Valiulis
Designer Rima Kiubaraitë-Sutkienë
Editor Genovaitë Savickienë
© Union of Lithuanian Art Photographers, Vilnius 2003
ISSN 1648 - 567x
A Picture of Lithuania - 2003
At the beginning of the twentieth century, after the Bolshevik upheaval in Russia, one writer said rather terrifying words about literature of his country: “I am afraid that the future of our literature is in the past”.
Today, looking at the world in almost physiological convulsions and the photographic art, we can pronounce similar words, “It is awful, if the future of Lithuanian photography lies in its past”.
Still, we should leave a question mark after this statement. As it is not awful when the future lies in the past: our roots, our beginnings are there. Moreover, every day future is turning into the past, and there is no escape from that.
Lithuanian photography draws its strength from its traditionalism. And we are lucky, because not everyone is capable of establishing a tradition. The world needs traditions like a road needs road signs, without them we would be lost like blind men in a desert. Traditions are valued, and valued even more than individual artists.
This year let’s talk about one of the greatest problems of modern Lithuanian (and not only Lithuanian) art of photography: the collision between an image and a picture.
We should agree upon one thing: art photography is not about a creation of an image. We can imagine all kinds of photographers’ visions, their subjective wish to present a picture of the world that differs from reality, and we can appreciate their masterful tricks. But if we are dealing with a work of an artist, we have to acknowledge that as deformed as it may be, it is not a means to obtain money or power. Money and power, if they come, they come only as a supplement.
An image, on the other hand, produces power and money. An image is a means to concentrate power as an ability to control and manipulate people. Art does not control or manipulate. It shows the world as it is. It reveals the world, and, strange as it may sound, it shows its obviousness. It shows, but it does not fabricate.
The world is constantly hidden from us, hidden from the eyes of simple men. Living in the society of total advertising, where even love and ways of making love are advertised, we can be sure that we are fooled. We are treated like a flock of sheep that they can drive into supermarkets and foist any goods on us. In this respect the total market world is no much different from the total world of communism: both treat the life of a simple man as a means to exercise power (political, ideological, market, and extortion). Here, a man is neither an end in itself, nor an image of God, but a tool in the hands of business and politics. Of course, that handful of people, these few percents of manipulators that strive to control crowds of people, is pathetic. That handful does not rise above the manipulated, as its needs are blindly simplified on TV screens, brought down to physiological level, and its minds and spirit are adapted for selling.
If the situation continues any longer, there could be nothing left of a man.
Therefore we need a third way, which is neither capitalism nor communism. We have to choose the way of a “simple man”. It is not an easy way; maybe it’s the most difficult way on earth, as it demands to submit, and to reject wild experiments. It is inseparable from religion, from living with a prayer. It means work through which we seek and bow to greater powers, and the mystery of life. An artist serving to this mystery is very akin to a priest. There is no art without God, as only God’s light, falling on earth, focuses on the works that remain forever.
The Lithuanian school of photography was always loyal to the idea of serving to a “simple man”. Fully formed in the 60’s, the Lithuanian school cut its way in the world’s jungle, found its own clearing of light. And now it keeps to this clearing. Experimental deviations are inescapable, but they are just deviations.
The idea of a “simple man” is inseparable from the idea of serving to a community in many Lithuanian arts, not just in photography. To be more exact – from the idea of nation’s survival. We can say that a man and his nation are inseparable, and that those two ideas cling together, and sometimes even converge. In times of Soviet communism they both found shelter under the idea of folk. This way humanism was protected.
And now humanism is experiencing new blows.
The theme of a man and a nation is dramatically changing in the modern world. Globalism erases boundaries between nations and communities; people are unified in order to rob traditions of their future. Who is responsible? Infinite mobility and immoderate consumerism. In other words, the capitalist mechanics of the world, which turns a man into a greedy and ungrateful creature. A creature that lives in a supermarket, on a TV screen, a creature without roots or a homeland.
Lithuanian photography captures this process. Our photographers photograph not only in Lithuania. They see a man in Africa, in America; they see a man who is conceited and confused. Almost everywhere they see a man and his environment. Moreover, a Lithuanian photographer is more attentive to a man who lives, not the one who controls. He remains faithful to the world of a “simple man”. To a picture, not an image.
Body is the hardest object to Lithuanians. We get confused if a photograph depicts something more than a face, eyes or hands. Meat sessions, happenings, jungles start revolving. Experiments with human limbs, belly dances, displays of body parts convey nothing. Since the nudes of our classics, nothing essential has been said about a man, we just witness desperate attempts to create an image of human remains. When an image is absent, there is no picture, too. Such photographs cannot be called art; we could only apply the words said by one existentialist that “hell is everyone else”.
The most important thing is not to let the photographic clearing to grow over. Thousands of Western experiments have led to a dead end, to an abyss. There remained only these, who evolved into great personalities, established their own schools and traditions. The art of a “simple man” and his world, communities we live in are the two shores that a photo artist is called upon to wander between. Like an every artist. Such oeuvre is least concerned with scandals, advertising, and shock therapy experiments.
The largest problem of contemporary art and the greatest challenge to any creator is the perception of limits. We need limits in this limitless world distorted by the fashionable idea of globalization. We need locality as an opposition to globalization. The great art survives only in opposition. If politicians and the money world talk about globalization as the inevitable future, an artist should rejoice: he already knows what future we do not need. As those who are straining after globalization are going to die of it. As there is nothing more deadening as the achieved goal. The achieved goal of the global world – a one-dimensional man – would mean the end of the world.
An artist is called upon to find the way of a “simple man”. He seeks by risking, by breaking free from the world of images and power; his calling is risk. But this risk is not heady or addictive; it is sensible and pure as a tear. It is a risk when you know that is risked, what has to be saved and what is staked. Feeling that the world is on the edge of an abyss.
“Small is sublime”, says a man of sound judgment. Christianity and other religions of the real world say the same.
The world of any Lithuanian artist always was small therefore beautiful. It was humane. And we should not be afraid that our future lies in the past.
From the Cycle In the Vilnius’ Streets.
Two Girls in the Pilies Street. 1975