In modern societies, national identity is becoming more complex, so does it in Estonia. I believe that human face is the best document of time, so I started to photograph Estonian people constantly from 2012. 

Estonia’s existence hasn’t always been that evident. 20 years have passed since the Soviet Army left the country and Estonians have searched for their new personal and national identity. Through the portraits of known and unknown Estonians, I aim to explore the little Eastern European nation as a whole.

Starting the project, I noticed that we have many interesting personalities, but also types of persons who are somehow recurring (some of them marking a period of time in our late history). It was interesting for me to try to look at my Estonian compatriots from a distance. You need to take one step aside to see the essence.

Using the gray backdrop, I also chose to turn upside down the idea of a traditional ethnological portrait by separating the models from their everyday environments. The gray backdrop is as important as the people on the images – it is a symbol, a metaphor of the past. Without cozy elements of a home or a hometown, with no supporting details or usual stronghold, the models can enter a new psychological space.

Developing the project, I noticed that we have so much more varied and growing community of other nationals that have also become part of Estonia. So I have included not only native Estonians in the series but also people from different countries who are constantly living in Estonia as it mirrors the real population. So, our identity, like in every modern society, has elements of the past but is already shaped by other nations and is not that homogenous anymore. Being Estonian is a state of mind.


Birgit Püve (b. 1978) is a portrait and documentary photographer currently based in Tallinn, Estonia. Since she started working on her own personal projects, her works have won several awards. In 2012, the picture editors of The Sunday Times Magazine’s Spectrum named Birgit the Spectrum Emerging Talent 2012. In November 2014 she won the 3rd Prize at The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize organized by The National Portrait Gallery in London.

In February 2015 she was selected as a finalist at the LensCulture Expose Awards. Her works have been exhibited in USA, Canada, UK, Russia, Austria, Germany, France, Latvia, Poland etc and published in publications such as The Washington Post, TIME Lightbox, PDN Magazine, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, GEO, Ryanair Magazine, Newsweek Polska, L’Express, among others.