art 2003/2

Fotoalbumo Lietuva šalis gražioji atvartas. 1960, dailininkas Vytautas Kalinauskas

Fotoalbumas Jan Bułhak. Vilniaus barokas. 2003, dailininkas Eugenijus Karpavičius

Photography Albums: Reproduced Visions and Reality

by Margarita Matulytė

Though the production technology of photography albums increases, the essence of this kind of publications remains the same. In Lithuania, the first collections of photographs were prepared in the form of portfolio back in the 1860s (The Albums of Vilnius). The discovery of zincography in the early 20th century brought about the era of reproducing of photographs by printing.
The dual nature of photographic images has provided wide options for its application. On the one hand, photographic images in their documentary role are used as means of illustration, on the other hand, a photographic piece of art is a vehicle of artistic expression. This gave rise to two distinct types of photography albums (publications, reproducing photography prints accompanied by concise text), namely iconographic (illustrative) and art albums.
Reference type of publications illustrated with photographs serve the informative, publicity, or even propaganda function. In Lithuania, the first successful projects to present the history of the country in photography albums were undertaken in the 1920s and 1930s. The soviet government in Lithuania put no less attempts to publicize its policies. The publications of the kind offering a unbiased perspective to the cultural history or the life in the country were very few. A unique and never emulated publication in the field of science is the 1987 publication by the Mokslas Publishers, the photography album The Nature of the Soviet Union: Landscapes, Flora and Fauna. An ingenuous concept of the book, its thorough and scientifically sound structure, professional work by the team of photographers, flawless design married together brought to the publication a wide international acclaim.
It is very difficult to draw a line separating the category of photography albums, where photography is used as a tool for illustration, and the other one, featuring photographic prints as works of arts. The so called coffee-table books serve a dual function. From their very conception such books are destined to become a bate for tourists. The attempts of the photographers to include the best shots with “most scenic” views into publications, serving the image-forming, tourist information or publicity function, often result in a flop from artistic view point.
The photography book for a photography artist is the ultimate and consummate act of his artistic expression. The conceptually uniform totality of his work reveals his unique voice and enables the artist establish himself both, on contemporary art scene, and in the history. Most Lithuanian photographers made their first appearance in periodical publications, but as photography artists, most of them emerged first in the national photography almanac, Lithuanian Photography, published since 1967. Eight volumes of the publication have encapsulated the development and trends in Lithuanian photography over the soviet period. Yet, in the case of this period, all the “Glavlit” supervision and the imposed limitations with their implications have to be born in mind.
After a long intermission, the Photographers’ Association has renewed the publication of the almanac, now entitled Lithuanian Photography Yesterday and Today.
A wide thematic range of photography albums demonstrates the popularity of the genre. Though collections of the works by different photographers have been quite numerous, they are far from being studies of their oeuvre. Several publishers (Baltos Lankos, The Lithuanian Art Museum, R. Paknys Publishers) have been active in putting out publications featuring Lithuanian photography heritage.
The article intentionally avoids drawing parallels with Western publications of the kind. Even though the contrast is great, the overall changes in the field in the country are positive.