2011 Nida Photography Seminar
Monday 12 September:
I am in Nida, Lithuania [see googlemaps] representing StreetLevel at a 5-day photography seminar with the objective of building links here and specifically researching the Nida Art Colony as a possible collaborative partner. We are also interested in the art colony as an example of how art institutions in other countries manage in these times of financial exigencies. More of that another day.
I have just seen and heard the first lecture which followed the opening of the week by the local mayor. Suntanned and smooth in a pale grey suit, the mayor speaks in the practiced tones of a diplomat and party bureaucrat of the old era of Lithuania. As the elected mayor of the region he gets a warm welcome and an accreditation card with a photo of himself from his previous visit to this event, several decades ago.
A major theme of the lecture by Agne Narusyte – The History of Lithuanian Photography – and new to me, is the nature and role of photography in the Soviet era [1943-1991]; how controlled it was and how self expression was repressed. Even a reflection of a Lithuanian national identity, rather than that of the Soviet Union was forbidden. Ways around this restriction were sought by some, however tentatively, and landscape photographs could be a surreptitious vehicle of Lithuanian identity if used carefully.
Question time was totally taken over by a statement from Aleksandras Macijanskas, an eminent photographer whose career has spanned both eras. He was at pains to assure us, at length, that it was a very difficult time. Visitors receive simultaneous translation, but perhaps not all the nuances and subtleties.
Nida is situated on the Baltic coast on a sand spit of dunes up to 150 metres high. In the
Soviet era it was a closed area reserved for the elite of the Communist Party. Pretty timber houses with thatch or orange tiles, shelter in the shade of the dunes around a small harbour and are now interspersed with more institutional apartment blocks and hostels for visitors. Thomas Mann lived here in the 30s when Nida was Nidden and part of Germany. German Expressionists artists also visited for
wild parties in the summer months. In September it is quiet with few visitors other than the 100 or so participants in the photography seminar who are not, as far as I know, engaged in wild parties.
Tuesday 13 September:
Laima Kreivyte speaks on The Gender Problem in Photography. Francesca Woodman, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark [“obviously a close metaphorical relation between the erect penis and the pistol in this image”], Peter Hujar, Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie, Gilbert and George.
Alexandras Macijanskas speaks again, taking the microphone to tell of the wild women of the 90s, especially those from the church near the gallery, who defaced images of [female] nudes and who were, he explained, not concerned about the art but inexplicably more interested in the fight. He went on to identify “the problem of maternity” as the cause of the dearth of eminent female photographers. Our main speaker’s calm but emphatic rebuttal received an enthusiastic response and closed the session.
Most of the day is taken with lectures so backs of people’s heads seem to be dominating my landscape today.
by Keith Ingham