– Viktoria, let’s start with the basics. What is your artistic background and why did you choose photography as a vehicle for expression?
– I studied film theory and at that time started to photograph. As I was not admitted to MA studies, I kept on photographing and somehow it got more important than other things.
– Could you tell us something about your project “Dievs Daba Darbs” (“God Nature Toil”)? How did it all start and how did you develop this series?
I was assisting an Irish photographer David Creedon. Every day we would drive to a random place in the Latvian countryside looking for people who would agree to have their portrait taken. So we’ve visited a lot of distant places. When we found that abandoned farmer’s house where the images were taken later, I was stunned by its atmosphere. In the air, you could feel a very strong presence of both life and death. Also, the fact that almost nothing was stolen was really surprising. We’ve looked around for some time and stumbled upon a wardrobe full of dresses. I’ve got an impulsive desire to make photographs, wearing some of them. Later on, I kept returning to the house to take more pictures. Although for a long period of time I wasn’t sure where this all is taking me.
I was visiting the house regularly, living there, observing light and interacting with objects. At the beginning, I was not too comfortable and had some psychological barriers. At some moments I felt fear or even disgust. But as time was passing I got more and more used to it. Now, I could start exploring the surrounding universe and develop a character after creating a comfort zone.
After about a year I understood the direction it all has taken. After two and a half years the project got exhibited as a solo show and participated in festivals. Currently, I am putting together a book which, I believe, is the best way to really finish the project and present this material. I hope I can finish a dummy by the end of this year.
– This house, full of objects and clothes that still “remember” someone’s life… How was it for you to be there, surrounded by all these things? What did you feel when returning there again and again?
As I said before, when I entered the house for the first time I was stunned by its atmosphere, but coming back there was different each time. House is located very far from public transportation and, as I don’t drive, each time it took me a great effort to get there. That’s why I was staying there for several days. Luckily, I had a place to pass most of the nights. Since there was no heating and no electricity in the house, it wasn’t possible to stay there during the cold season.
Each time I was coming back to the place, something would change. Things were falling apart little by little, some furniture details would disappear. Sounds and smells changed according to season too. Winter is the most silent one, there are no flies buzzing and no birds singing. I spent a very silent and meditative time there and, depending on the mood, pick this or that object or garment. When I visited the house for the last time, I felt that it is over now and I have to leave.
– Have you thought about visiting the house to see how the things are now?
– No. Our relationship is over.
– May we ask you about your next project? What are your interests today?
– Currently, I am interested in the territory between documentary and fiction and I plan to shoot one story exploring this terrain next summer. At the moment I am also researching the possibilities of animated gif, which in my opinion stands somewhere between still image and video and is perfect for creating and documenting repetitive actions – the ones that a person is doing daily. I am entering apartments of my friends or randomly encountered places, observe my own actions and situations and create animated gifs based on these encounters.
– You also led a special workshop at the International Summer School of Photography (ISSP) for local teenagers. What can you tell about this experience? Have you thought about becoming a lecturer in the future?
– It’s the second time I was teaching this workshop and I am grateful for this opportunity. It was very intense and quite challenging . We’ve got some really nice results and, I believe, participants learned at least couple of new things, that can be useful in their daily life.
In my opinion, teaching is foremost about helping others to recognize and make use of their own visions, talents and abilities, giving contextual and technical consultation if needed. Teaching is also a mutual exchange of information, ideas and energy. I love doing it and would like to continue giving workshops or teach somewhere as a part time job. But I have to admit that it consumes a lot of energy and mental space; this is the reason why I wouldn’t like to do it fully.
– Could you name a few photographers who’ve influenced you the most? Is there any photographer or project you keep returning to?
– I always pay a lot of attention to random images that I encounter on my everyday activities – when visiting houses of people, institutions, bars and cafeterias, walking down the street, reading magazines, surfing the Internet… I appreciate and look closely at works of many photographers both classical and contemporary. For example, Andrejs Grants, Inta Ruka, Anders Petersen, Diane Arbus, Weegee, Peter Hugo, Hellen van Meene, Josef Sudek, Robert Frank, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Antoine d’ Agata, Nan Goldin, Elina Brotherus, Cristina De Middel and others.
– Do you think that we can somehow differentiate photography from the Baltics and Latvia in particular?
– Probably there is something distinctive. In each geographic region there are different light conditions and prevailing colors. I believe, this plays an important role in shaping visual perception. I have an impression that photographers from the Baltic States are greatly influenced by documentary approaches, often tend to be poetic when choosing subjects and ways of working.
Viktoria Eksta was born in the village of Graveri, Latvia. She lives and works in Latvia and Spain. Viktoria studied photography with teacher Andrejs Grants in Annas 2 photo studio, ISSP workshops and EFTI Madrid (Roberto Villagraz scholarship), holds an MA in Visual Communication from Latvian Art Academy.