Balys Buračas and Vytautas Stanionis in Germany
by Alis Balbierius
Both during Soviet times and today, Lithuania's photographers have participated in numerous prestigious international photography exhibitions. However, it is not so often that one-man shows are held abroad. Presenting the photographic inheritance, and its constant return to cultural life both in Lithuania and abroad, are two different things. In this respect, two exhibitions representing Lithuanian photography, held at the Giedrė Bartelt Gallery in Germany at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001, were a pleasant surprise. This cultural project was implemented by Kodak in Lithuania and the Giedrė Bartelt Gallery.
The first was the exhibition of the work of Balys Buračas (18971972), the patriarch of Lithuanian photography, held in October and December last year. This return of Buračas to Europe is symbolic. It was a true return, as the work of this photographer was awarded the Gold Medal at the World Exhibition in Paris as far back as 1937. Today we can only guess what Buračas would have been like and the place he would have occupied in the context of European photography had it not been for the Soviet occupation, which isolated the creative work of this universal personality for many decades.
Buračas' photographs, which are acquiring an ever-growing ethnographic, artistic and documentary value, were given a lot of attention in Germany. This is testified by articles in the press the photography journal Brennpunkt (2000/4), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Suddeutche Zeitung and others. The works from Buračas' exhibition "Photographs from Central Europe (19221939)" reflect the spirit and customs of the Lithuanian countryside of those days, as well as types and occupations of country people. The authors who wrote about the exhibition pointed to the relation of Buračas' photographs to similar cycles and projects at the beginning of the century. The return of Balys Buračas to Europe is significant indeed. Even in the days of ideological censorship, the photographer was not forgotten in Lithuania; on the contrary, it exercised, and still exercises, an influence over the development of modern photographic art. However, it was not until 1998 that Baltos lankos finally published the first serious album of his work. The greater part of Buračas' photographic legacy is still waiting for publishers and researchers.
The Giedrė Bartelt Gallery continued to acquaint people with the photographic tradition of Lithuania, from 26 January to 15 March, by exhibiting Vytautas Stanionis' (19251959) scenes and people of postwar Dzūkija, "Photographs from Central Europe II (19461956)". The very comparison of these two photographers and two different periods is significant. Only a couple of decades had passed since the time Buračas had taken his photographs; however, the spirits of the two Lithuanias are as different as chalk and cheese. They are like two different epochs: two different, however quite authentic, testimonies of history.
Fundamentalism, the concentration of the countryman on spiritual values, the importance of tradition and its continuity, can be seen in Buračas' photographs. Photographs from the period between the first and the second world wars radiate the spirit of the country, they are full of vital energy and hope. Stanionis' postwar scenes represent the same poverty; however, they contain no hope, a kind of nostalgia, tiredness, an almost surrealist space of indifference. The faces of the people are absolutely different (especially in photographs for documents), artificial and forceful Soviet celebrations. All the photographs were taken at a time when partisans were still fighting the occupants, and were mercilessly hunted by the NKVD and destroyers of the nation. Stanionis' photographs testify perfectly to the spirit and mood of that period.
It is the comparison of these two different photographers, from different periods of the same century, at the same gallery, that is so significant and interesting. Stanionis in essence has only recently been discovered by the wider public in Lithuania; therefore this showing in Germany may be a serious stimulus for a further representation of the photographic tradition both at home and abroad. Of course, only if there is somebody who can do it as well as it has been done this time by Kodak in Lithuania and the Giedrė Bartelt Gallery in Berlin.
Translated by ALDONA MATULYTĖ