Algirdas Šeškus

Algirdas Šeškus, 82 1467 398 (1982), digital scan from black-and-white 35 mm negative

Algirdas Šeškus, Shaman, 2012, inkjet print, installation view, Benaki Museum—Pireos Street Annexe, Athens, documenta 14, photo: Stathis Mamalakis

Algirdas Šeškus, Photographs, 1975–85, gelatin silver prints, installation view, Neue Neue Galerie (Neue Hauptpost), Kassel, documenta 14, photo: Mathias Völzke

Algirdas Šeškus found photography in 1975 when he learned that he would need to bring ten photographs to a job interview for the position of cameraman at the only television channel in Soviet Lithuania. Nobody looked at the pictures, but the camera he bought for the purpose showed him the world anew, and he continued photographing for the next decade.

He got the job, he suspects, because a close acquaintance of his worked for the channel. That his father had officially been a communist since 1936, and both of his parents had served in the war, may also have helped (Šeškus was born in Vilnius in December 1945). In the hushed climate of the 1970s and 1980s, the images that Šeškus was making did not gain much recognition: they were far too casual, poorly done, and unfocused to be taken up by the established school of Lithuanian photography of the time, which aspired to expressing the feelings and thoughts of its subjects. He, along with a handful of other photographers, gravitated toward a more documentary approach.

Šeškus would often take photographs when behind the television camera, or he’d find a place in the city that provided both backdrop and action (“it wasn’t theater, so there were no bad performances,” he told me later). He did not attempt to stir events unless he was already a participant in them, nor did he attempt to report on events in their entirety or in isolation—each photograph, though for him an event in itself, encompassed fragments of many.

In 1985 Šeškus abandoned photography, first moving on to visual art, where censorship had slightly receded and he found greater freedom, and later to a practice which avoided the formal aspects of art entirely. “I had come to understand better what I was doing with my work, and I found the trouble of finding the right form—and then the effort of people trying to unpack the work—tedious and unnecessary, so I aimed to communicate with people directly.” His idea of an artwork is that of a vessel, a form composed to hold “larger amounts of art” that can otherwise be found anywhere in lower concentration, not so much in things but in between things. An image, he would say, is not necessary for a photograph. Šeškus started photographing again in 2010, recently publishing new work as a series of thin notebooks called “New Time.”

—Virginija Januškevičiūtė

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook