Stakle recently won the New East Photo Prize organised by Calvert 22 Foundation, with a series titled Heavy Waters. Shot in Crimea in 2011, the series shows towns and villages scattered along the coast on the Crimean Peninsula – an area that was at the time part of Ukraine, but which became part of Russia after the Ukraine-Russia crisis in 2014. To date, Crimea remains an internationally unrecognised part of Russia. Crimea was one of the most popular resorts of the Soviet Union but, says Stakle, “being on the crossroads of trade routes has always been risky”. “Since times immemorial, the Crimean Peninsula has been coveted by different countries, near and far,” he writes in his introduction to the series.
“One could easily say there’s nothing to photograph there, because it’s just like any other park,” says Latvian photographer Arnis Balcus of Victory Park. Situated in the Latvian capital Riga, Victory Park [‘Uzvaras Park’ in Latvian] was officially opened in 1910, in the presence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Mayor of Riga. But, as Balcus explains, “it is a park with a complex history”. First built to commemorate Latvian independence, the park was given its current name after the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in WWII, and as such “embodies the historical trauma of a small Baltic nation”, says Balcus. It’s famous for its Victory Monument which, at 79m high, looms over Riga’s skyline and provides a daily reminder of the controversial issue it signifies.
Centred around the theme of New Chic, the works on show at Riga Photomonth this May “are united by quests in the language of photography,” says curator Alnis Stakle. Raising questions about the materiality of photography, he continues, these projects also examine “individual and collective meanings and identities and the rituals of looking and showing off”. Inka and Niclas Lindergård are showing a series titled The Belt of Venus and the Shadow of the Earth, for example, which addresses the materiality of the photograph and photography’s role in the stylisation of the landscape. Through manipulation and the use of colour flashlights “their works become an open portal to the hyperrealistic synthesis of beauty, kitsch and visual desire in the language of photography,” says Stakle, who is director of Multimedia Communication and Photography at Riga Stradins University, and a celebrated photographer in his own right (bjp-online featured his series Theory of R in March 2017).
The Warsaw-based photographer picks the top five projects from Eastern Europe in 2017 – including Alexander Chekmenev’s Passport
This year marked the 100th anniversary to the October Revolution; the Bolshevik coup lead by Vladamir Lenin that would result in the Russian Civil War (1917-22) and, ultimately, the foundation of the USSR and the communist regime that lasted until 1991. In the BJP’s latest issue, we try to understand something of the vast history of the Eastern Bloc.
When Alnis Stakle first took up photography, he was faced with a rigid conception of what it could and couldn’t be. In Latvia in the 1990s, photography 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” that 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. Most of his work is driven by the desire to record his surroundings in a deeply personal way, and his new project – Theory of R – marks an important transition in his life. Moving to Latvia’s capital, Riga, in 2011, he found the global economic crisis was creating a grim urban environment beneath the “shiny veneer” of the city’s tourist attractions. “Half of the people of Latvia reside in Riga, and individuals who suffer from poverty and social exclusion are by no means an unusual …