Observations: The boozed-up Lithuanian peasants who appeal to Martin Parr
Friday 11 December 2009
A skinny, middle-aged, man, stripped to the waist, is dropping his trousers. His right hand rests on the lid of a bin, inches from a strutting chicken. Next to him, his grinning wife is holding a piglet upside-down. This exceedingly strange image, along with a surreal, flinch-inducing shot of a man blow-torching the belly of a dead pig in the snow while a chicken perches patiently on his bent back, helped the Lithuanian photographer Rimaldas Viksraitis win the 2009 Arles Discovery Award for new photography.
Martin Parr, Britain's greatest photographer of the super-realities of ostensibly unremarkable lives and activities, thinks Viksraitis is so special that he selected and introduced the photographer's work at a show at the new Anya Stonelake/White Space Gallery in north London.
Viksraitis works in and around bedraggled Lithuanian villages. "In his world," says Parr, "any apparent dysfunctionality, propelled by liberal drinking of home brew, appears to be an asset because people seem to be having such a great time. He goes to the parties, he sits and drinks and talks with his subjects. You can tell he is enjoying himself and at ease with his subjects. Viksraitis's sitters also seem to enjoy taking off their clothes. I assume this is helped by the home brew and rather warm temperatures, or perhaps they are all having frequent sex. He provides us with a ringside seat, with all the emotion, the drink and the ensuing madness."
Parr likes this kind of photographic truth, and it's significant that he passes no comment on the crude technical quality. As one gazes at these scenes, the key realisation sinks in: unlike most of us, these characters do exactly what they feel like doing, with a fusion of innocence and lurid intent that poses a rather provocative question. What if we pitched up and got utterly drunk with these unselfconscious villagers?
Grimaces of the Weary Village, Anya Stonelake/White Space Gallery, 7-9 William Road, London NW1 to 16th January
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