I think that I prefer doing portraits than any other type of photography. There is always a back story to all my projects and these usually contain a historic narrative. For me photographing people is far more interesting. There is an old adage that every picture tells a story but this is not true in all cases. We as viewers can guess about a persons character from a photograph but never get the complete picture and its only by sitting down talking and spending time with your subject that you can access what is hidden. Historians write about a country’s history by conducting academic research and examining state papers, but for the people on the ground who lived through these historic events what is sometimes forgotten is how valuable their stories and perspectives are in understanding the past. In my recent work The Summertime of my Autumn which revolved around themes of aging and memory in a rural society in Latvia. As a country Latvia has experienced a lot of changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union going from a socialist country to the free market economy. One way for me to help my subjects recall their life under Soviet occupation was through their photographic albums. Leafing through these albums, the memories of their youth come flooding back as if it were yesterday. For some, they just closed their eyes and replayed past events as if they were rewinding a scene from a film, while others didn’t want to say anything as it seemed the weight of the past may be too traumatic to recall. A case in point is the photograph above of Daina Kārkliņa, when I met Daina at her farm in rural Latvia I could not guess the story that she was about to tell. As the project developed the stories became just as important as the portraits so I also tape recorded these stories.
Daina Kārkliņa (b. 1956) On a cold winter’s morning in December 1979, Daina went to the shed to work not knowing the tragedy that was about to unfold. After completing her tasks she returned to her house to find it in darkness. When she entered the kitchen black smoke and heat came out to meet her. She ran back to the shed which was about two hundred metres away and called on her neighbours for help. They removed her three children Aiga, Andris and Mareks from their beds but by then it was too late. When the medics arrived they tried to resuscitate them but by then there was nothing they could do; “It was the worst day of my life”. The tragedy put considerable strain on her marriage and eventually divorced her husband. Five years later she remarried and now has another three children.