Architecture, Portrait, Projects

Photographing the slums of Riga, Latvia

All images form the series Theory of R © Alnis Stakle, courtesy of the artist

When Alnis Stakle first took up photography, he was faced with a rigid conception of the medium. In Latvia in the 1990s it was largely considered a commercial craft, he says, with any more artistic ambitions restricted to banal nudes and sunsets. But for Stakle photography is “a kind of religion”, which has the power to change our relationship to the world.

“Photography is a wonderful medium that makes me look at mundane things and events from another perspective and enables me to grasp the essential in the meaningless,” he explains.

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_02_1

alnis_stakle_32

Most of his work is driven by the desire to tell the story of his surroundings in a deeply personal way, and his new project – Theory of R – marks an important transition in his life.

He moved to Latvia’s capital, Riga, in 2011, where the economic crisis was creating a grim urban environment beneath the “shiny veneer” of the city’s tourist attractions.

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_06_1

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_04_1

“Half of the people of Latvia reside in Riga, and individuals who suffer from poverty and social exclusion are by no means an unusual sight on the capital’s streets,” he says.

Determined to show these desperate conditions, Stakle turned his lens on the impersonal Soviet architecture and slums of Riga; he avoided journalism, though, as he believes it often borders on propaganda. Instead, he presents a dark and critical, “pictorial” response.

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_07_1

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_10_1

“In Latvia, art is still considered as something that gives pleasure and leads the spectator on a meditative journey,” he says. “It is very rare that artists address socio-political issues.”

His subjects are eclectic and fragmented, with images of haunted nightscapes and dead animals pieced together to form a disjointed journey through Riga’s underbelly. In doing so, he wanted to create a “visual theory” of the city – hence the name he’s given the series. “Technically, these images were created in very different ways,” he says.

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_19_1

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_15_1

“For example, by using a medium format camera and artificial lighting at night, or by shooting with a disposable camera.

“In my case, a theory is a set of approaches that I have constructed in order to create a photo story which is emotionally grounded in my personal world, socio-economic anxiety and technological codes.”

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_22_1

alnis_stakle_theory_of_r_21_1

Stakle’s not interested in creating a polemic with a fixed message though, and says he left the project free to evolve over time. “For me, it is important to leave room for the spectator’s and my own imagination,” he says, adding that he’s now editing the archive into a book.

Find out more about Alnis work here.