– Gunta, what is your background?
– I was born and grew up in Riga. I have received an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from University of Arts London. And now I live in Sweden where I work as a documentary photographer, specializing in social and cultural issues.
– Please tell us more about this body of work.
– “Go Down That Road” is a project that focuses on a village for the blind called Strazdumuiža on the outskirts of Riga. This community was built during Soviet Union times, due to a factory which manufactured household brushes and timber products. Many jobs were suited to visually handicapped people. But in the early 90’s, when the Soviet Union collapsed, trade with former Eastern Block countries has dried up. The industry was not nationally supported anymore and the company went bankrupt.
But this village has survived until today. It is still home to a larger community of over two hundred blind or partially sighted residents. Over 90 percent of the residents are dependent on government aid, which puts the community in a passive and victimized position.
I grew up near the village, and I met those people day by day when their lives were more meaningful. Now I was interested in studying and discussing the impact of the social system on quality of life of blind and visually impaired people in Latvia. With this work, I wanted to show that people from Strazdumuiža are confronted not only with the loss of their workplaces and adjusting themselves to a new social environment but also with the handling of Soviet experience and memory within the present context.
– Is it a finished project or you are still working on it?
– I have almost finished working on it. And there will be an exhibition at the Latvian Museum of Photography in June 2016.
– What’s next then? Can you tell us about your next project?
– I have been working on a story focusing on elderly Syrian women living in Sweden. The aim of the study is to gain a greater insight into how older women with an immigrant background live in a country where they do not share the same language, culture, and traditions. By questioning their wellbeing and presenting their daily experiences, I want to identify the group’s shared experience of aging here in Sweden, and to show what ties they have with their homeland. I believe this can be a unique project that will challenge the current perceptions of older women in our society.
– Considering the current situation with the refugees and seeing that our society is divided over how to host new refugees, do you think it would be important to have similar projects made in your home country Latvia?
Yes, definitely! The situation of asylum seekers differs from country to country and so does the reaction of society. I believe that the studies of how the Latvians consider the arrival of refugees would provide valuable insights into social-economic problems in Latvia.
– Where do you source your ideas and inspiration?
– I have been studying Social Anthropology, thus I have always been curious and interested in social context, including its diversity of positions and perspectives, conflicts, and contradictions of social life.
– Could you name a few photographers who’ve influenced you the most?
– Some of the names are Alessandra Sanguinetti, Alex Webb, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark and Josef Koudelka.
Gunta Podina is social documentary photographer based in Sweden. Her work is represented by the Arles based Photo Agency Ektadoc and Alamy. Besides she freelances for Swedish magazines “Research and Development”, “Language” and newspaper “SN”.
Her documentary projects aim to deconstruct conventional interpretations of people and environment, whilst making meaningful commentaries on current social and cultural issues.
Projects and commissions she undertakes often deal with the notion of identity, belonging and social interactions.