Kaunas Photo Festival 2012 (2)
Envisioning the Hidden ~
I had the honour of co-hosting a symposium on photography today at the Kaunas Photo Festival. The event involved a series of public conversations between my co-host, Tomas Pabedinskias, or me and a number of the artists exhibiting at the festival. While all the discussions were interesting, two stood out for me. In very different ways, each addressed the ability of photography to address even that which is hidden from view.
THE FIRST ARTIST explored a form of disability that is invisible to the eye, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone syndrome. This is a genetic disorder that severely constrains the way of life of the sufferer, for obvious reasons.
But how to present an illness that is not visible?
For several years, the Austrian artist Stefan Sappert has been creating work using the 19th-century ‘wet collodion’ photographic process, which was popular in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Made on glass, these are called ambrotypes; on metal, they are usually known as tintypes. The glass sheet is coated in a light-sensitive film, exposed while still wet, developed and presented as a positive; so each image is unique… and fragile.
There is another name for OI. It is ‘glass bone syndrome’. With this name in mind Stefan draws an analogy between the fragility of brittle bones and that of the glass plates.
Having made contact with a number of people with OI through a sufferers support group, he made portraits of each individual, a time-consuming process dictated by the need to coat, expose and develop the plates in a continuous (wet) sequence.
Beautiful though they were, these images did not seem to get to the heart of the illness and it was during his conversations with his subjects that he came up with the idea of cracking the plates. This was not a procedure that could be controlled and each plate broke in a different and random way.
The shards are then presented with the image tightly jigsawed together again and framed. From a distance the image appears whole. It is only as one gets closer that the fine cracks in the structure of the image reveal themselves.
These are subtly beautiful images, precious in their uniqueness, but lent a kind of melancholic nobility in their compromised wholeness… like the sitters themselves, perhaps?
You can see more of Stefan Sappert’s work here.
EXPLORING VERY DIFFERENT HIDDEN TERRITORY is the work of the celebrated Lithuanian photographer, Algimantas Aleksandravicius. Working in the early 1990s in the period immediately after Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union, he captured the heady dangerous days as the nation began to reconstruct itself. This was a period of opportunity and change. It was a time of burgeoning entrepreneurialism and organised criminality in Kaunas that made uneasy neighbours in a restless, uncertain city.
Algimantas Aleksandravicius was an avid photographer and a talented businessman who ran two cafes and the city’s first commercial gym. The cafes, like others in the city, were places of erotic license and cinematic sensibility.
These were rough times. People got shot; things got blown up, including one of Algimantas Aleksandravicius’ own cafes. But, with only a limited rule of law in the city, he took a pragmatic approach; these hoodlums were also his clients and he maintained a working relationship. It was this proximity and a degree of grudging trust that allowed him to make the photographs now showing a Kaunas Photo Festival.
Shot in four cafes in Kaunas (one owned by the photograph himself) the images depict the gangsters and other young men, attended by a bevy of naked ladies who are there for the purpose you might expect – they also had to earn a living.
In that permission was (understandably enough) sought before pictures we taken, the images are staged. But a number of the young male subjects were gangsters of the day, fueled on violent power and industrial-strength sexuality. (Now either dead or serving their time in jail.) These are ‘real fictions’; portraying people and places that were what they were, in scenes posed for the camera. Gangsters and molls performing themselves.
While the clothes and some of the hairstyles would be right at home in the 1940s film noire, this was the clandestine world of organised crime and commercial sex that prowled the dark of night and enjoyed the privacy of closed doors in the first years of the last decade of the 20th century in Lithuania. They were, as Algimantas Aleksandravicius noted at the opening of the exhibition this evening, “interesting times”.
Images from the exhibition (titled “Small Town Cafe Stories”) are not widely available on the internet, but you can read more about Algimantas Aleksandravicius here.
For information on Kaunas Photo Festival go here.
upper: © Stefan Sappert ‘Susana’ from “Osteogenesis Imperfecta”
middle: © Algimantas Aleksandravicius from “Small Town Cafe Stories”
lower: © Algimantas Aleksandravicius from “Small Town Cafe Stories”