All Sains Day 2015

All Sains Day 2015

Received a message:  ” At 8 aunt N. has died”.

What a message. Not a word more or less...

I hade seen her just over a month ago. Found her in  a prayer just as I left her many years ago. With the same lost smile and same sweet exhales.

This time she was in bed, with a wooden cross in her hand, casting a shadow over her chest.

Sun was casting shadows from the curtain onto her face.

 

-Aunty, I said. What is the meaning of this life? What was it lived for, what for were the prayers?

She answered after one of her exhales:

-I tried to be better, to be better…

 

It felt as if I was talking to a first grader with way too heavy burden on her shoulders.  A burden that no one asked for permission to put there and nobody remembered to thank her for carrying.

While on the road, she  forgot herself and  became a burden.

 

Who thanked her for all the silent prayers she whispered for us against all the winds. Who heared those exhales that ment to keep us stong whiie she was on her knees...

I know, somewhere pray monks of St. Bernhardiner for my soul against the winds .If only... But that´s a talk about another time, another burden…

For now,-who´s wings should I take so that I could fly back, to scatter the ashes of the past, so that my children could pick their own flowers from the

fields of their own  memory?..

P.S.

As funeral procession entered the cemetery with the line of people carrying the cross, flowers and a coffin a crying black kitten came out of the grave yard. Running between the legs  of the mourners and looking for warm hands she circled the crowd .

Like two forces - of life and death colliding into each other in the middle of the cemetery.

Now this black Life is outstretched in the soffa purring next to me. You lose and you find…

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Honey from your hands

Honey from your hands

Succulent summer. The smell of freshly cut grass is blended with morning´s dew.  Soft rays of sun play hide and seek in leaves of trees.

The sky is blue. The wind´s from west. 

Our hands intwined, our hearts are beating in unison. Lulled away by music´s words, our souls are singing.

 

Sounds from our hearts unite above us , creating winds and clouds and hope.

 

From the deepest hollows rises my voice, escaping me, becoming a lark , rising high in the sky , singing a song to sun, singing a song to life, singing a song to my freedom or what it is to become of it….

 

Can you hear the singing? Can you feel these hearts?

 

And slowly a storm approaches. Cumulus clouds roll over the the sky.

As if drawn by our unity , squads of black birds gather above, blocking the light, suppressing the hope and changing the contours of maps. 

In these moments of darkness, then there is not much light, then there is not much lightness left, then the righteous lust for freedom is suppress to the ground,- what we have left is our song, the melody in each and one of us.  It´s our shield and weapon to withstand and to go on.

 

United we stand. Sisters….brothers…neighbors. Our songs , like birds of spring, fill the sky with hope and light.  And then there is no hope left, the light is still within us. There is hope in every sad song. And there is a rebirth in every ending.

From east they come, to east they shall be returning…

………..

For now, I am rootless, I am voiceless, I am my shadow- I cut my roots to seek new shelters - a traveler, my world is wide, my maps are white, untouched. 

I´m open like a book to every passing stranger with wicked  promises to brake….

As darkness comes, with hardships, with surrender, with whipping winds like cold hands on naked, bended back. 

We do not choose the easy roads. We stand our ground, bending in the wind, we wait out storms. 

From loss and sadness rises stronger feeling, to follow your path, to make your own meaning in living.

I watch a silent wind play with his curly white hair. I follow his light steps on summer grass. His furrowed face that faced so many storms is facing morning sun.

Through him I´ve seen my country´s fate  - a man who has refused to kneel, refused to a surrender.

It was better to be broken then empty. It is better to be bound then voiceless. From the depths of disgrace rises wisdom and visions. 

And hope expressed in singing.

His songs are filled with longing, with dusty sunny roads and autumn rains. With hands outstretched, he faces the sky while singing sorrows of his life.

So is my country, with stretched out shores, she greets me - like a  long lost child, whose hands are empty and heart is filled to brim. I am coming home. She takes me in.

Inviting, filled with memories ,filled with silent steps and songs and an unborn, unuttered honey words:

the words of glory, the song of home.

 

Can you hear my singing? Can you feel my heart?

 

http://www.strawhatvisuals.com/blog/longform/nikon/

 

 

 

 

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June 2014. From the film "waiting to exhale"

June 2014. From the film "waiting to exhale"

 

       Waiting, Longing, Missing and losing.

Disguised as something else, clouds of sorrow hang heavy over the heart.

It´s June…………. air is filled with dusty waiting.

As if standing in the crossroad with a split second preview for every direction.

A look inside yourself, the inner sadness, missing , loss.

For all that has happened or shall...

Like an old, peeling off paint,- the feeling of waiting and longing lingers in the curves of the body.

Inhaling the missing and exhaling the loss.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d-EWBocCvE

There is sometimes a very special before and after.

There is sometimes a very special before and after.

Some event that somehow affects you and moves you deeper or in a different direction.

 

For me it was meeting a photographer  Roger Ballen, who´s work I had known a while and recently  had a privilege to be part of his workshop.

 

there is so much to say that words loose their meaning. So I let pictures come, thoughts move around my head and let the hands use the camera to create.

 

What a joy.

What a frustration

And joy again.

 

in the end, for me, it is all about giving the time.

And allowing time to give back.

 

The history of drinking

The history of drinking

I am running so fast, it feels like floating, round and round the table in the guest room in my aunt´s house in southern Lithuania.

Half the distance from me is my uncle, laughing, half singing and trying to catch up and catch me.

I am five. He is drunk.

I have never seen him like this before: irresponsible, half happy, half silly, without being able to stand straight or finish a complete sentence. I am actually scarred. I am running and shouting for help, crying out for my aunt to come and rescue me.

I come from a family of "one glass of vine at the party" for my mother and "no thank you ,-it´s not for me"for my father.

This is unusual in a working class area that we live in at that time. Just down the block is the liquor store that closes late at night. I am scared to walk home after my evening classes. It´s my father that has to pick me at the bus stop and walk me home.

I am growing up in a long gone Soviet, where good life is scarce but liquor is plenty.

My childish world has shadowy figures that move sideways, dressed in dark coats and never show their faces. Not seen in light , they exist after sunset or in a dark doorways and staircases of neighborhood buildings. Sometimes, coming home from the yard, I reluctantly have to squeeze by them, half breathing from fear, running  up the stairs and catching lingering smell of pee, vomit and cigarettes. 

.............

With these memories somewhere deep in my subconscious I attend many parties for many years, watching, talking and drinking with people around me. There are moments of intimacy, moments of sorrow, moments of happiness and belonging. And loneliness. And I have wondered many times what part alcohol plays in our emotion turmoil. Why celebrations of joy or sadness feel somehow withheld without alcohol involved. And why  alcohol many times is a ticket of excuse for inhuman or just plain stupid behavior. 

WIth these thoughts and on a look out I am at a fancy party in downtown Stockholm. I am surrounded by a smart crowd in forties and fifties who are having a good time.

I am here to drink and take pictures.

But first I wait and watch. After a few hours people´s limbs and tongues loosen, the noise increase and the amount of drinks in their hands triple. 

I am not really comfortable on this assignment. These are friends of friends. To  be here with my purpose is a bit like opening secret drawers  in family´s friends house.

As for watching,- I am not alone. Around every party there is a security guard who is watching out for trouble. They are invisible to those who came here to drink. To me, who is between drinking and working, I feel at the border of old east and west.  Two , mentally, far away worlds.

My assignment here is to violate other peoples privacy and their space in public, thou I feel that the guards presents offend me while I violate myself taking pictures of people drinking and having fun.

I am not sure I offend the party goers, mostly I feel trapped,- neither lost in the fog of happiness nor being able to just be, without interference of those, other, observers.

All of a sudden my focus is not on what I do but how I feel being watched by someone else.

The idea that there is someone else, watching me, while I am watching someone else is both disturbing and tricky. 

As for the party- there is a limit of drinking in the public too- those who violate the rules are kicked out,- so I am on the street, unable to finish my assignment. It´s past two a.m. , I am standing at the edge of a dirty, wet red carpet. I am holding on two souls, who did get lost in the fog. Holding them tight and looking for a cabb to bring them home.

This evening made me travel through many countries that I have worked and visited, recounting the times I did observed the drinking . And how little did it differ around the world, how similar it was, the drinking. Our need for it, our hideaway in it, our own history through it.

The history of drinking. 

http://joeyabrait.com/en/pictures/the-history-of-drinking/history-of-drinking-pictures/

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Defining who you are

Defining who you are

It seems like a simple task, thou this time it does not involve words. This a classical assignment for any student at any photography school- come back with a self portrait that you yourself feel right about. Simple are the words. Similar is the face. 

But is this about the face?…

Or is about the body?…

Does a photographer looks back at it´s own reflection with the same curiosity as looking at the faces of the strangers?

How do you put all those onion like levels on one plane, knowing the complexity of yourself,- can you ever really capture your essence as you hope you do with the others…

Through all my work with portraiture I often thought how interesting it would be for me to meet myself and be photographed by myself. As if two mirror sides would meet. What portrait would it come out of that session?…

I have always done quick self snapping, in different locations, in different moods but this time is for the open, somehow it is for framing and hanging on the wall. 

It´s only the beginning, the photo session has just started.

Silence, camera...

Succulent summer just ended.

Succulent summer just ended.

Heat has been following like a shadow with occasional dip in a cooling water. Lot´s of work, lot´s of travel within Sweden and even more work. Lithuania was on my list, working with an ongoing project that I still don´t know where it will land.  It´s all about the beginning, all about air and water, so I am confident it will fly, or dive or both. 

Meanwhile , while packing away summer clothes and welcoming in rain I packed away obligations and work and  taking a trip to another unknown -an experience of being a  photography student. I don´t know where I will land after a year of studies, but I am confident I have lot´s of diving and flying ahead of me.

Spring 2013

Spring 2013

Had a lovely morning with Jonas Bohlin, Sweden´s national designer.


He sat in the grass, his silver hair playing in light breeze , behind him wild cherry all in white bloom, around us  curious sheep. And spring in full bloom.
-I just don´t want to work right now, while all this is happening around me, I said. It feels like have eaten magic mushroom, it´s too much of this life.
He laughed,-twenty years ahead of me he had his share of this feeling.  And replayed that true,- a spring this deep is not for description, it´s no use trying to make a visual or sensual copy. You just had to live it. Here and now.
About himself and his work he has said " I am a man and I am grown up, but as well a woman and a child. Everything has it´s contrary, it´s friend on the other side…. My design is all about feelings that I carry inside me. It can be hard against soft, light against dark and living against dead".
I have met him previously once before, photographing throught a window  looking at himself through the camera lens. The picture felt deep and dark, too much one sided, so I called him up and asked for second chance. For something lighter and easier to balance my portrait of him. 
So here I was with the sheep around and my second chance, taking in life and light and having way too heavy camera in my hand. 
Instead what I sensed that was needed was time for contemplation of here and now of time and spring and life , all passing so fast. 

 

http://www.tomwaits.com/songs/song/279/You_Can_Never_Hold_Back_Spring/

 

 


 

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May 2013

May 2013

Solitude -  silent moments that come too seldom and pass too swiftly .

My constant move towards seconds of that serenity, that total silence, that quite hum of the womb - deep dive to the ocean or high dive in the sky - just wind, silence and the pulse.

And then comes the self´s and world´s as I know it desecration, -swiftly as sharpening old knife, like chiropractor´s neck breaking hands,- with just few swift moves the change of order of my universe is made,  believes are broken and space for that deep breath is made. An opening appears-  for new thoughts, new wisdom, a different approach.

My solitude- a third eye´s oppening and starting point of the decent to loneliness.

Spring days in Dalarna, April 2013, Sweden

Spring days in Dalarna, April 2013, Sweden

She makes me stop. Her hands are busy holding bags and she shakes them  as if getting a ride is a matter of life and death. 

I break, skidding to the side of the road. With the speed of light the calculation is made in my head: my safety, car´s  space, the time .

Filippa, from Mora, is going to Stockholm. To see her boyfriend that is.
Importaint reason-  i say,- hope you´ll have a good time.

I am jobless -is her replay.

For how long?

Five years…and he is jobless too….We don´t talk about it…it´s too unpleasant… we just are…

I watch her in my back mirror…with two black pony tails, she is somehow ageless and powerless too. Not a fighter, somehow belonging to the army of those that follow…

I wonder of her dreams when she was growing up.

What wishes did she make watching falling stars?
……
On my way to Mora , the radio talk was on , with interviews of the youth across the EU , on their take of being grown-up and jobless. A polish girl of 21 struck me most.

Her words were these :” I guess growing up means giving up on  your dreams of how life should have been and adjusting to the realities…”
She has given up. Without really trying for all I could hear.

There is a generation of young people who are losing believe.

In possibilities, that are not worth fighting for, in their own power to make a change.

Have we fed them with the golden spoons, adjusting to their every need? And now , grown-up-babies, they are lost in continental limbo it feels.

…..

On a small soffa with hard pillows, he sits,- master at finding jobs of nothing. Like grinding dust and getting  invisible flour.

His shoes-too big, feet are like clowns in wide V . The tie is off shade blue that has been gnawed just at a knot. The last button of the shirt was forgotten and a small part of the round stomach sticks out to breath freash air.
He looks too used and too old for his age. A beurocrat, that has learned how to get the most of all the given situations, he is content about himself and life.

For what it has become.

He makes me close my eyes.

What did this man dreamed to become ?

What promises big life had for him back then?

He falls asleep for a split second in the middlle of a sentence. When he wakes up, he leans on the table and whispers secretive numbers on labour, unemployment and statistics.

 

And I open up my eyes and wake up, out of the mist, seeing life like king´s new cloths.

And I looth the scene.
Like hearing words echoing from my chilhood that life is no party with the baloons,- it´s a slow and hard walk upwards pulling a heavy plow.

And of my rejection back then, six, of such a sinfull tought and my demand for ballons and songs and joy.

And I still demand the same : - to see life as a gift, a joy, to aim for the better in me and in others. And to never ever  give up.

To give up most colorfull, joyfull, creative dream.

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April 2013. Your face

April 2013. Your face

 is hiding emotions. Like a cell´s window in an old fortress it does not give  itself away, little light, little air.

I am standing in front of your face, trying to break a code, trying to read your language.

Give me a hint, give me something to start learning from.

 

 

We look at each other but speak in silence and our sound waves pass parallel spheres. All we hear is our questions returning back at us .

As in front of a wailing wall, i keep on hiding my written emotions in the small cracks of the stone surfice.  Monotonous bowing, bringing me to the emotional overcharge.

We can´t adjust to each others needs, demands ,-as harsh as joining a new religion,they feel foreign and strange.You are not the one who shoulders weak. I am not the one that stands the coldness well.

While passion drowns me in myself, I drown myself in silent thoughts and you are drowned in yours.

Or do I?  Or is it? 

Maybe all it is is my own reflection staring bluntly back at me.

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February 2013, Stockholm

February 2013, Stockholm

Waiting for a man at a small cafe. It´s a quick assignment,  a portrait of a man, who has written a book and is in many TV productions right now.
Who debates a lot in newspapers and has strong opinions. Who has incurable cancer and is 27 years of age.
I walk around this place, a bit early, looking for any free table, any place that offers better light.
I wonder how is it to look in the eyes of the man who lives his day as if it was the last.
Who is not afraid of dying but afraid of being in the hands of the others. Who has surrendered and still would not give up.
While waiting I find a small boy sleeping in a reading chair.
Alone, so peaceful, so present and absent. So in between. I wish i could just stay, absorbing the serenity in his face.
….
My farewell feels flat, like half empty ball it does not bounce- I keep on seeing the man like a boy_ deep asleep and in peace.

February 2013, Amsterdam

February 2013, Amsterdam

It has been a busy week in Amsterdam.
The room, without a view, that I rented in downtown, in a house, owned by an old and known travel and fashion photographer H. 
A shy boy opened the door to greet me in heavy slavic accent. Dzendobry-I said? He smiled back, and the rest of the time he spoke to me in a language I don´t understand,  but only guess. His Uzbek girlfriend, a 28 year old, was in charge of renting rest of the rooms.  In one of them lived a lady, walking silently  as a shadow, who, I find out too late to photograph, was being evicted the same night for having 16 cats in her room . She moved in and out of the house carrying bundles of bags and begged for more time . Then she finally left she took house´s keys with her.
Leo, the oldest of us all and an old friend to never to be seen photographer sat on the corner of the bath tub with a glass of red wine in his hand and traces of red on his lips. He plummeted into discussion of human fate, unhappiness and choice of poverty.  And fear of death.  I left it there.

Most of the days moved from frozen walks into meetings, with lots of coffee and plenty of discussion.
What striked me most is that only few subject can make people talk . Talk with passion , with emphasis. With love or hate.
Photography is not a wide arena to play in and most people do know each others work or know the characters behind the pictures.
And so do they know the difference of good and bad.
What I loved most is that a word gut, or heart crossed lips of many, many times.
It reminded me of the Swedish photographer Anders Petersen, and his  photography family tree:
he looked for photographers that made him feel as he belonged in same stile, in same expression of emotions and grouped them in closest family, or further away relatives.
That way, no matter where he was or what he did, in a moments of doubt, moments of loneliness or sadness he looked in the direction of the tree to find the needed shelter and support.

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January, Stockholm, 2013

January, Stockholm, 2013

Hurry hurry, quick quick, sharp, decisive… demand from all sides, everyone pulling to get their share, catch the time, catch the picture, catch the deadline, tomorrow this all means nothing, it´s a start all over again, run run, deal with grownup crankiness , fight the traffic in a snow chaos, get through to another person in this everyday´s noise.

  I leave the office with a silent shout_"how a hell I am suppose to have time to live in this life",- driving and sucking frustration on my tongue. And then what I see makes my heart beat drop, makes my breathing slow down and my eyes widen: in a cloudy  sky, behind a statue holding a cross appears a round disk of the gray sun. Just lightly illuminating itself in this shady gray sky it appears and disappears behind the curtains of clouds. Wide, flat, permanent. It´s presents brings back perspective what´s in this life worth agonizing  and what´s best left as a passing moment.

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Italy, first day of the new year,2013

Italy, first day of the new year,2013

Post Scriptum 2012/France

Post Scriptum 2012/France

The sound of sleeping people turning in their beds above reaches my ears. It´s late past midnight in this old farmhouse that nests cosily in the shadows of the mountains. 

 

 

Last hours of the old year are ticking ,- and as this year is silently turning away it will leave events to be covered by time´s passing dust. What´s left of these experiences are visual memories. Frozen laughter of group of children after singing, wet feeling of hard falling rain on the lake, contemplation in a traffic jam wrapped in sweet morning light. Moments that would be swept by by new sensations and be forgotten, be left covered, layers of layers of forgotten moments deep dark in our memory lanes.
Emotions, events, faces and places molded together in year´s pictures. It´s been ten countries walked on, photographed and experienced this year for me. Many faces looked at, many stories listened to, many words shared with. Much tears and much laughter. From Thailand, through Ukraine, passing by Central African republic and continuing the journey back to Europe.

There is an silent old dog walking same paths around this house in this small village for many years,- an old and tired, limping, black fur with arthritis touched bones and constant hunger in the eyes . But mostly asking for company and a warm corner kind of a dog.
Since every picture that a photographer takes or makes is a picture of a person itself, it´s nice to see myself in that dog, and feel the years and experience filling my shoes, making me stop more often and contemplate. Look around for friendly faces. Look deeper for those hidden feelings, those unspoken emotions. And share the discovery.

Hear hear to the New Year!

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December 2012, on freedom for "Kontent" magazine:

December 2012, on freedom for "Kontent" magazine:

Vilnius, 1992

it is forbidden. The sound of this word.  I am told stories of the past, of the gone glorious days.  The older would sigh, rewinding in silence the loss, we, the small, would try to imagine what was lost.
We would use the inspiration from the late night stories and brake the rules,-write forbidden words in the back of the schools books, on the pavement or scribble it on the elevator walls. Teen-age kisses were filled with longing for freedom too.
And now I have had enough. 17 years of repression, with no choices and no hopes. Only the stories from the old days fill the empty gap somewhere deep inside where freedom feeling should be.
I kick dust with my shoe , its just beginning of the summer and am done with school, I am done with musts, I exclaim again with triumph and resentment:
-I have had enough, I have done all I could for this god forsaken country, and now I am leaving.
Now it's my turn.
Now it's my turn to touch freedom.

 

 

Moscow,1995

-Cheep taxi,- the driver shouted, shaking his key chain to attract attention.
-Cheep taxi to the center for ten dollars….
His job is gone, factory closed down and all was left was his car-old Moskvitch. He spends his days giving a ride to the stray passengers around the city. Moscow is big, cold and unfriendly. Everyone count´s on himself, turning their backs and forgetting compassion.
And the  taste of freedom reached Moscow. Dollar is the king, still hard to get, still so promising. Those who got  green money feel free.
I am earning my first money too. It´s all green, it so valuable- it´s  for my future trips and a small part for the rent. As i walk through the city, I read the signs, the new signs that cover the streets- ads for Coke, for new promises and for currency exchange. I go about,  changing my weekly amount at the best rate places- a hall in a wall with a bulldog looking men hanging around. I get hungry to get more for my hard earned 200 dollars one day- taking  a risk in changing directly with the black market dealers. My two hundred dollars are checked, rolled into a straw and ail of a sudden its a turmoil, and the bulldog charges, hearing the warning sounds from a police. He pushes back the rolled up money into my palm and runs, runs in a fast and aggressive away.
My heart bounces, i run into the different direction, then stop, roll out the money. It´s two dollars , not mine, still green and sweaty lay in my palm. A taste of freedom in my mouth is bitter.

Stockholm,2009

 

Shamal is cooking fish for dinner. I am helping him by chopping six heads of yellow onion and later frying it in the pan. I am crying, having a flue and fever, so the smell of the onion helps. Officially I am alone in this kitchen, together with six foldable chairs , plastic flowers and EU´s map on the table. Shamal´s last seven years are on the run or in hiding,-he is illegal immigrant. And now he is here, in one of the best places to live then it comes to quality of life or      equality between genders.
This is a life of plenty.
All he owns is two bags filled with warm cloths. A mattress on the floor and an old PC. Two pairs of shoes. His days are short, nights are long- working as a cleaner he wipes the spills in the clinic for the elderly,cleans gyms and empties garbage bins at the offices. The only meal he makes is lunch.
Leaning over the map of Eu he chews slowly and points the cities he'd love to visit,-and meet girls. He is free and at the same time locked here by lack of money and papers .He will never go back home for the fear of what awaits him and he'll probably never become citizen here with all the rights. The only way is finding a local girl:
-Do you have a boyfriend , he wonders in his gentle way.  - I am a nice person and good at cooking...
The curry smells lingers in the kitchen and the onion sauce is thick by now. Shamal is taking a long drag on his cigarette outside. I am watching him through a window. He is watching freedom slip by.

Cairo,20011

First time we meet at the arrivals.
An Egyptian composer with a common name. He is still exited,- a young man, for the first time taking part in a demonstrations. Scared , so scared of the unknown, of the police, of being away from the safety of his own apartment and family.
In a kitchen over a cup of tee, surrounded by the leftovers of the previous night's party he tells me the sensation of the first gulp of freedom. How it mixes with the smell of fear, adrenalin and tear gas. And the feeling of being a part of the nation, being a small part of something big. He smiles.
Next time I land it´s the election day and already evening. He picks me up after standing for five hours in a voting line. I can see his chest is filled with pride.
As night falls we takes a spin around the city, retracing his freedom walk. As he slowly drives by street crossings , he can still see the police barricades, sweaty faces of the fellow demonstrators and the feeling of thirst ,-all shops are closed and the demonstrators have been out in the sun for many hours by now. The courage grows as they are bulled and blocked and attacked from different directions by military or the police. Courage to stand their grounds, to push on, to believe in reaching the goal: the square. And then ...the freedom.
The phones are out of service, he is out of touch.
He's never been abroad and never seen snow.
-Freedom  is inhaling and exhaling lightly , knowing its not the last breath, he remarks and rolls his cigarette slowly.
And I recognize this hunger for new and more in me.

Vilnius, 20 years later

She is making a list of emergency items for the end of the world. At least as we know it.
List of things to have if bad times are back again.
She is good at imagining it.
Sucking on a lollypop  she types on her computer the list and talks about where to dig holes to hide and preserve things. As if she has done it many times before. As if she has it in her blood, saving for the bad day .
-Is it a price you pay for a freedom, -I ask.
She does not understand, so I explain, how her unconscious part must be always prepared. To fight and never surrender, as if it's the same to live and to be free .
- So what is freedom for you, i ask.
She thinks, leans forwards and looking stint in my eyes she states: - freedom is like food, -you grab it with your teeth , it's necessity for living. And you ever never let it go.

http://issuu.com/kontentmagasin/docs/kontent_nr._4__2012___frihet/51?e=4896776/5238098

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Kiev, May 2012

Kiev, May 2012

She takes her palm, presses against a friend´s chest and while palming it she says:
-A bit small, ha… why don´t you enlarge them?
-i know, answers another girl, but it´s so bloody expensive…

I am surrounded by girls, from 19 years  and up, in a run down neighborhood of nine floor buildings, blooming flower bushes and trash piled into overfilled container in the middle of the parking lot.

 


Let me explain- it´s spring, a heatwave just hit Kiev, forcing the nature and people to come out from shadows and hide aways. The girls are activist for the street grass movement - Femen, that sprouted out of pre-economical crisis , then future seemed promising and hopes where not yet crushed.
The demand seemed simple,-give women space to breath and be themselves in this predestined and fortifying mentality ,that craved for girls to be pretty and quite and dumb.

They stand here in the dusty courtyard with a lonely woman cleaning her carpet and a younger man bottling his 9 a.m. beer. Femen is preparing for the upcoming action  -"sex bomb" and their voices drown in the sound of the rug being dust beaten to submission…

Ukraine , a vast country with black soil and steel factories, has had tough history. Just last 20 years it went through constant shake ups in country´s industry and politics.
It´s a men controlled society, with more conservative share of family life-men make money and provide, women are pretty and stay back, taking care of the domestic trivia.
Sexual industry is explosive too. Google Ukraine and most hit´s will be on sites like "pretty girls from" …
And many girls find it as a norm, to walk in high heels, to look stale and emotionless, and to look and compete for the richer man, the one with most money, the one that will provide and will take care of her .
The loss is for those that do not chose well, that get pregnant fast and are left still young, without ready education or money to take care of themselves and the children while the ex´s look for younger and prettier elsewhere.
Woman´s value seems to be measured in her physical appearance and lesser number on her age scale.

But all of the sudden these girls started appearing on the streets, demonstrating agains unequally in the society, the unfairness of women´s rights and against deafness in hearing a different opinion. They were tall, blond and just as striking the eye as many other young women walking the streets of Kiev. There was one difference thou - Femen girls did quick protest actions taking of their shirts .The hit was immediate - pretty, half naked girls, struggling with brutal police forces outside one ministry or the other…

The group has gotten bigger by now and went through many testing arrests that cut down the number of those, thrill seeking, and left the most burning for the cause.

I find it mentally hard to travel east many times. The mental preparation is most difficult. I tend to feel that the harshness of history affected the people living in these geographical territories and left deep enough scars to affect all the living after generations.
As well as recent soviet past, that left many people half mummified and slow in understanding the need to change.
This harsh, depressive, aggressive silence, hanging in the air as I travel through the history´s vast plains.
It takes time and friendship to make holes in these nets of feelings and for me to push though.
Meeting with people like with these girls from Femen gives a deeper picture and more optimism.

They seem to be the messengers to the rest of the society of things that do not work, things that need to be changed.  There are those that laugh, that get angry or cheer seeing them.
I only hope there is an eye that listen´s to the message or that message keeps on echoing from Kiev´s nine floor buildings to wide downtown avenues. And that slowly change will come.
I would love to meet them in ten years time, just to be able to see how they actions affected their own lives and the lives of those who heard their message.    

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Central African Republic, May 2012

Central African Republic, May 2012

May 9, Bangui

Dinner by Obangui river, grilled fish with cooked bananas and cassava. The smells are wet, sounds of chatter of people and frogs.

I am in the heart of central Africa.

May 10, Bangui-Bossangua
Time pase is different here,  nor does time have same value as back home.
Human interaction seems to take most of the time.
It takes forever to get car, driver, money and documents ready. It past three before we start rolling, which means we'll drive most of the time through the dark country.
Soon the asphalted part is over, now the road is pressed red earth all the way to Bossangoa. Rainy season is starting now, we are just north of equator , but it's lush green all around us.
And it is raining, by night rain drops are cold , and all around so dark. Meals are cocked on the open fire and another hour spend by the light of the cerosine lamp,
but after that it's darkness that takes over.
Only lightning after thunder that illuminates the landscape...
At night a lonely mice tries to make a home in my bag. She leaves a few holes behind.


May 11, Bossangua
Too many cities here start with letter B.Bangui, Bossangua, Buar….
One of the explanation is the local language has sound gb that made easier for French to pronounce simplified to b.
As for city Bossangua, located north west, it's heat, flies and mango that seems to affect each living creature. It´s mango fever-
dark skin with yellow fruit in the hands, kids find any means to get hold of the fruit.  Eyes are  seeing everything, no detail escapes their notice.
Foreigners as we are, we are watch relentlessly, my movements are recorded and echoed , the camera is shoed away, people either hide or scream angry words in my direction.
The picture taking has to go in a second and the only way of getting any picture is to be unpredictable and moving .
Meeting with people and end up in crowds of shouting kids…
(A quick visit to the cotton factory. I took a walk on my own, looking for the pictures, and the joke went that oh no, joey is lost, a white person in a cotton factory,-we´ll never find her… )
Evening and the dinner of duck and chicken in the city mayor´s backyard.
In the night surrounded by the sound of generators, the talk moved to their county, its future and the leftovers of the past. It takes experience to know how to deal with the old wounds of occupation and France´s presence is still felt every there ...


May 12, Bossangoa-Bouar

It's still no service on the phone. Not to mention internet. As statistics show there are 0 users of Internet counted by 100 citizens in Central African Republic . Radio is a way of getting the information , lots of local, African, and as usual French and rest of the world´s stations that reach people here. It's both a relieve and frustration not being able to get connected .
Th day started at dawn, by the river Ouham. Waiting for the people to come down for morning washing.
Edith was one of the women, who gracefully balanced her plastic bucket filled with clothes to wash on her head. I loved the way her drape kept on falling off, relieving her torso in the morning light and how her hands were as fast at fixing it back to its place as she was still busy rinsing her white curtains. Age 20, newly divorced and with three children and one all ready gone back( this is how they say about dead children) , she was living on her own getting by selling food that she cocked.
Later on the road we passed a man carrying a small bundle covered in a sheet . Behind him a woman was pulling a crying and grieving mother. It was a slow and painfully walk home. There are no ceremonies for the small ones here.
This countryfeels tough . People are glad and chatty but behind this lays years of instability, of oppression and colonization. The special nation it seams, squeezed and dependent on it´s neighbors for it´s own stability, as well as still facing the left overs of colonization .
The symbolic colors of the flag tells a story, the usage of French is another point. For breakfast this morning  we had the minister of education for an interview, he just confirmed last nights discussion of the need of change of the way people think.
- we don't need food,- he said,- we need help in mechanics .
What he meant was moving away from the French system that prepared you for the office jobs and into "Ango" that thought  the technical skills.
- We are waking up so late to realize that we have no educated technicians ... "We need to build this country but we have no means and no resources ..."
This is what I felt while lifting my camera over and over again : frustration, anger, for the past, for not having enough possibilities and choices .For being used...
The people standing in front of me are proud, no matter the history, it only makes me wonder how different it could have been ...
It's few minutes left before the lights go out. We had a luxury of four hours of electricity . The place is SOS children's village. A place that might give hope and possibility to those who had none. Can't wait for the down.


May 13, Bouar

It's Sunday which means morning mass. And a stroll on a dusty road back to the village. I have never shook so many hands as here and never have I said so many hello´s. Not to mention smiling.. People here love to shake hands every time they see each other, even it might be many times during the day. To make a greeting more joyful they slide palms and snap each other´s finger tips making a click . You have to be fast or the other will make a click first.
- Balau... Merci... Sa va? ....Sa va bien…Singila…ae…ae ae....
The tirade of greaeings you say to each other mixing Sangi with French.
At the SOS village, where over a hundred children with grownups live, it becomes many handshakes. Good practice thou. It seems this is a way of befriending local people two. First wave and smile, then great with frases and shake hands . After that it becomes easier to take pictures. Crowds are still very hard to befriend. It's still a matter being neutral, fast and ignoring the initial anger. Thou I must say it's a tension never knowing how long to dare pulling the rubber band.

May 14, Bouar

We are in the higher altitude. Wind had pushed heavy clouds over our village. It's as cold as a cold summer´s day back home. Kids are wearing pullovers, sweaters with rain deers, ski hats and flip-flops, it's hard to be warm in humid cold. I hoped to get some pictures of the sleeping kids at the family house that I am following but there was hardly any light this morning. Have another chance tomorrow before we leave back for the capital.
What surprises me most is the patience that kids show. Waiting. Constant waiting, for food, for friends, activities , teachers, for things to happen. And children wait. Shove a bit, run, play or just simply sit.
Was able to visit a school, loved the writing on the black boards with charcoal. Played and danced a bit. Missing 6 more arms, have had at least 20 children who tried to get hold of the hands and another 30 trying to look through the camera's viewfinder.
Feel both tired, it has been an intense trip as well sad having to leave the place. Becoming friends with kids makes it really hard to leave and not be able to be in touch.
Hope to see them waking up dressing and  having breakfast before going to school .
Hope for cloudless dawn...

May15, Bouar-Bangui

Last morning with the kids. Still so dark, a dog smelled me, following and barking. Had to chase him away before he woke the whole village.
These days have been so rich in experience, to learn a new country and get to know the people.
I would not have been able to do as much work if not for our guide/translator. We found a way of working, me pulling the rubber band of how long I can be in one area taking pictures and he telling me when it's time to go. Or distracting people around. It is so many times that in order to do your work you are in the hands of the local experts. I have been lucky to have met one who understood our work and helped us all he could so that we could bring and share the pictures and the story of his country.
It is a beautiful, rich in wild life and they say very similar to Kenya and totally unexplored country in the middle of central Africa. There are hardly any visitors,those working are mostly in the capital, doing shorter field trips.  As for my physical appearance ,-children went through my skin and my features thoroughly-checking bones, veins, fingers, nails, squeezing palms, smelling and feeling. Skin to skin contact.

It is still hard to understand that I am in my childhood's dream. The stories from the heart of Africa, with lush green colors, red earth, small huts and dark skin children with buckets of water on their heads.  It takes an african to live here, so tough, so hard and so competitive. Watching how they play says a lot how society works.  Smartest, strongest survive.
And it's a hard fight to get there.
Missing they joyful voices and small hands. It was hard to leave. Long day on the bumpy road back to the capital Bangui.
Tired...

 

May 16, Bangui

Last day in central African republic.
Busy from the morning with interviews of the former SOS kids. All saying the same- the possibilities that came in connection with being taken care of by the mother in the SOS village and opportunities with education open so many doors to a better life. And they feel the need to give back, since they know how it is to be on the other side.
Just to catch the last sun rays took a spin with the guide around the city to take last pictures. One has to have a written permission in order to photograph in the capital as well as in other cities. We have been waiting for almost a week, but no paper ever arrived. My constant clicking was making the company nervous, since one can get arrested for not having one. I had a feeling that we won't get it in time, so I kept on shooting just watching my back and picking the timing. Now it was just three of us, driver and a translator that I trusted and who knew what I needed and how I worked. We cruised the town looking for right locations to describe the feeling of downtown capital. Stopped around the market, where many people passed. Just stayed put, observing who did what and let the street vendors get accustomed to my presents. Quick shots, of a man selling baguette sandwiches and a camera is down again. A nephew of a guide stopped to chat. I asked him to allow me to take some photos of him. It was a chance to use him as a cover to get the pictures of the surroundings. Some quick shots as well of people around him. Of all people it had to be a older woman, dressed in a skirt suit with a small plastic bag a a walky-talky that stopped - a police boss of the 6th police station and where is your permission to take pictures…she said.
A long discussion later, some phone calls and some faith and she decided to let us go with a warning. Short and imposing , she made me ask if I could take a picture of her...
She agreed, only on Friday, at her station while she is working...
By a chance before leaving from home  I googled about photography and RCA, few names came up, one was of a photographer, a celebrity in Europe and US, so I wondered if we could find him. We did, he pulled up just as we were finished with the police.... He came out of the car with crutches . A great guy, who only reconfirmed my observation on how hard it is to work as a photographer here. I asked him to pose for me, he was great, and I admired his strength to continue even thou he was missing a leg. Have to write to him and tell it. By the way it was not the photographer I meant to meet, but this was for the better. And while taking pictures of him, a girl approached us.The one I meant to pass by and photograph, working as a hairdresser.
Life is sometimes strange, taking away and giving on its own accord.
Last dinner, speeches and presents. Feeling sad leaving this country. Indians say that sometimes while traveling you have to stop and wait for your soul to catch up before continuing. I think I am leaving part of my soul here, with these warm, generous, open hearted people.
Too bad I am gong to miss my appointment on Friday at Bagui´s police station....
Singila mingi everyone!

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Nice prize

Nice prize

Lovely new has reached me that the cover of Weekend magazine has won the "Award of Excellence"in design contest Scandinavian News Design. Cover was made as part of a story  of the Sweden´s newly elected  Social Democratic party leader Håkan Juholt.

I got to know a day in advance that me and my writing colleague had 40 minutes total for the interview and the pictures.

Sweden´s socialist party has been suffering a painful political suffocation and has been trying to reinvent itself, looking for the new ways of making old slogans shine again. The new political leader was their hope.
It made me think of a king and his new cloths.

Making a portrait of a new party leader i used my phone´s photographic applications for panoramic shot of the room, as well as i used my professional camera for the actual picture and the transferred the original picture into the telephone where i used iPhone photo application to adjust contrast, white balance and give some old stile feeling to the picture, only to send it back to my computer. As if trying to be a king with the new cloths too….
Last ten minutes i took a big ring flash and asked reporter and the party leader to move to a clean wall at the other end of the room where we used an question and answer method while standing… This as well produced a different kind and unprepared reactions. As our time was running out , I took out of my pocket a small mustache trimming sizers and asked Mr. Juholt to trim his famous mustache.
He did an excellent job.
( the picture is on the portrait gallery http://joeyabrait.com/en/pictures/photo/

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London, March 2012

London, March 2012

it´s a sunny monday in London… i have 6 hours and 4 exhibitions to see…

Paintings, textile work, photography and plain fun.
Just like at a play the previous afternoon, -it´s a sea curious faces and hungry eyes around me.
Imagine having people lined up for few hours just to get to see painter´s work.,- a third of it done on a ipad and transferred on paper later on.
We are like sponges, pressed against each other, moving sideways and whispering into each others ears, sucking up the colors, forms and visions.
 


I never know what I take from these side trips into other people´s spaces and visions… sometimes I find colors, sometimes moods sip into my own work, somehow making it all we create somehow closer and more of the distantly related, spread across the wide world and still so close to each other…. at least in the need to express.

 

http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney/

http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/

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Women`s week, March 2012

Women`s week, March 2012

 it´s been days filled with meeting women for me.
Starting with Camilla Thulin, swedish designer who, beside her own brand, works for  theaters and other stages, declared that Swedish women are repressed after all. I called her just to go throughout the details before the photo shoot.

Strong and Beautiful

Her opinions where clear and strong: "…business women´s, who are over forty, idol while growing up was their father, always dressed in suits. Mother´s role was in a kitchen as she was despised by the daughters. So looking up to the father as a role model she learned the dress code.  She became just another man in a suit……A modern woman wanted so much to be equal that she forgot that the real fight is not in looking the same, but in having same salaries and equal opportunities…."    Camilla did look splendid when i photographed her next to the gray suits and surroundings…And it was not just her dress, it was her attitude that shone through.

Lucky me, i have had continous meetings with women whom i constantly asked how they felt about Camilla´s statement…
Never have i got so many curvy, flattering, sensual opinions as now…as if sky was listening to my own complains about this unisex society with secure almost sterile lives and look like people…
This spring i have had a joy of getting to know two girls, interns from journalistic schools from different parts of sweden who are having their internship with the paper. I found myself picking up camera and asking them to pose from the roof terrace or the studio in the cellar just to explore the faces and forms of such amazingly beautifully different girls…

Just to enjoy the fact that i am a woman too….
 

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Spring, March 2012

Spring, March 2012

First rays of spring are here.
Chilling nights are still present, but the soft light is finding us  slowly, making heads turn to the sun, shoulders drop and lungs exhale.
It´s a mystery , the need to feel the light and not only see it.
And in the lack of light,- we struggle to understand the darkness, loosing the footing and searching for the tiniest glint of shades.

Februari 2012, Moscow

Februari 2012, Moscow

I just woke up in a strange apartment, on the 20th floor, still drowsy from late night I pull the curtains and see the late winter sun rays greet the blocks of soviet apartments. It´s dawn...

Back where i started

So here i am. Back where i started,-Moscow, almost 20 years ago.
Two nights ago I sat with my colleague at Kentucky Fried Chicken in down town Moscow and between the spicy wings and siberian beer shared memories of early nineties. Looking back and remembering how lucky one can feel to be able to grasp the change of a country and it´s people within a life time. Being close enough but never that close to get too involved it´s a delight to come back and find same city full of change. From places to attitudes. And the best part of it are smiles. Those stone faced people of stone walled city who never believed in tears were giving me smiles...and curious eyes too. Not too much, just enough to feel the Russian hospitality and warm soul sipping from all those fur coats and hats.

Cold, very cold

It´s so cold, invisible frost is pinching my lungs, heart is racing, it´s a slippery pavement ahead, another 800 meters before i can find a shelter. This time it´s a Modern art museum on Petrovka street. It´s an "Art is an Art in an Art " exhibition going on with endles rooms and occasional view of the monastery with a beautiful bell tower in water color palett.
In the nineties the only modern art they had was the life itself, it feels such a jump to see the exhibition of the days of my youth.

Another place that was great to visit is an old wine factory that is now converted to a exhibition center. With big capital letters "Vinzavod" is still breathing out history and breathing in new visitors every day.

It´s a small birthday party, a "vecherinka" at one of the galleries in a restored building. Behind colorful work of art hides a table of snacks and a jolly crowd. WIthin an hour singing starts: folk songs, pioneer songs from the childhood, melodramatic song from old films. Creative cream of Moscow are exchanging gossip, updating on the news and chit chat on art and philosophy.
S. just pulled me up to dance. It´s a nice album of Yo Yo Ma with Bobby Mcferrin. His cheeks are warm and it makes me think of samovars. Kettles of hot water for tea. He is from Samara, working in Moscow and missing his family back home and later on taking a drag on his cigarette he ask´s me a simple question,- if Sweden is a paradise.

I jump back to my own early memories of yellow bananas and blue jeans...
It was a key to paradise then...but what S. is asking me now is.... how does it feel to be treated as a human being... to feel the worth and feel security in the right to be.

Russia´s presidential election are coming soon, one might know what the short term outcome will be,- but a real question that S. is asking, that so many people of at least Moscow are asking,-is when will it be turn for the ordinary people to test their right for the democracy, for the right to have the right, without anybody misusing it or stealing it.

gallery.photographer.ru
www.winzavod.com

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