At the Edge of the Known World: Rimaldas Vikšraitis’ Photographs of Lithuania

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© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

© Rimaldas Vikšraitis© Rimaldas Vikšraitis

Rimaldas Vikšraitis has a special place on the stage of Lithuanian photography. His works cannot be attributed neither to the traditions of Lithuanian photography nor to the dominant trends of modern photography. Staying apart from the established trends of photography, the author conveys realistic and simultaneously extremely individual images of modern-day Lithuanian countryside significant not only in a narrow context of photography art but also in a general cultural and social context of today.

Through his works, the photographer tells about people’s lives in Lithuanian countryside, recording of which has long-time traditions in Lithuanian photography. Ethnographic topics rooted in the works of Lithuanian artists already in the interwar period and have acquired a new artistic quality when merging with the trends of humanistic photography in the 1960s. Yet the long-time traditions serve for Vikšraitis as a starting-point rather than the guidelines of his creative road. The characteristics that defined the individuality of Lithuanian photography school for a long time are not typical of his works. The photographer does not create psychological portraits and does not record a natural flow of rural life. The people he photographs consciously stage the most grotesque situations of their everyday life expressly for the camera. Moreover, such performances are not covered by an “artistic” visual form in Vikšraitis’ photographs.

A seemingly objective look at the people being photographed, which is typical of modern photography artists, does not soften the relation with the recorded reality in the Lithuanian author’s works either. Vikšraitis is not only a distanced observer (the quality often identified with modern artists) but also a participator in the situations being shot. He records the rural community which he is a part of in his photographs and the stance inaccessible for outsiders distinguishes Rimaldas Vikšraitis from other photographers. Although there is plenty of irony in the author’s works, they offer a possibility to empathize with the reality of the countryside experiencing decline rather than judge the people who live there.

Without hiding behind an expressive form of artistic photography or the cold conceptuality of modern photography, Vikšraitis documents the roles, which have little trace of human dignity, performed in his presence openly. The evidence that the majority of people who posed for the photographer inadequately perceive their personal situation overwhelms the most. Even though photography has already inured us to various images of suffering people who voluntarily stage the performance of their own decline in front of the camera, the photographs are still shocking. They not only spotlight social issues but also make us reconsider the essential categories of humanity.

A sincere language of Rimaldas Vikšraitis’ photographs seems to be understandable and relevant not only to Lithuanian spectator. While recording a local way of rural life, the Lithuanian author created photographs that received an international recognition in the major European Photography Festival Rencontres d’Arles in 2009. Here Vikšraitis won the Discovery Award, for which his works were nominated by the famous British photographer Martin Parr. Both authors are open to the surrounding world and are ready to show tragicomic aspects of our life; the difference is that one artist discovers them in a globalized world, whereas the other does in a small provincial village. —Tomas Pabedinskas

Curated by Gintaras Česonis, Rimaldas Vikšraitis’ exhibition At the Edge of the Known World is on view at Blue Sky Gallery.

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