Seeking photographic destinies

Award-winning Lithuanian photographer Vidas Biveinis comes to Gallery Strenger

by Katrina Grigg-Saito

His figures cut through the sky, crisply suspended, on their way into the water. Sometimes they are immersed, or watching from a shore, but most often they hang in the air, about to split the drink in two. For Lithuanian photographer Vidas Biveinis, water represents a changing emotion, expressive of anything from fear to humor. Speaking eagerly in a mixture of English and his native language, he turns his large blue eyes toward his translator for words or phrases.

“Sometimes feelings are freedom, sometimes they are hidden, and sometimes the water breaks the wall and releases our feelings,” says Biveinis. “And these feelings can be a joke, like in the seven-day competition, or our secrets can be our fears.”

The subject of his main series, “7th Day” (2007), the seven-day competition is a jumping game that the artist played in his childhood. The photos received critical acclaim in Lithuania and led to an invitation to the Moscow International Festival of Art earlier this year. Now they are part of a solo exhibition taking place until Oct. 11 at the one-year-old Gallery Strenger in Azabu Juban. Taken in his hometown of Ingalina, the black-and- white prints capture children diving and twirling and cannonballing, solo and in groups.

“I was looking for how every single child is interacting with emotions and with his friends, for how they express their emotions,” says Biveinis.

The series is a continuation of his “6th day” series, showing upstairs at Strenger, in which men whose skin color matches the caramel sky of dusk wander a beach or sitting in beach chairs. The photos were taken on Biveinis’ sixth day shooting at the beach, when, at 6 p.m., the sunset cast a stunning orange glow. The Biblical reference to man’s creation — “And on the sixth day God created man” — is continued in the “7th day” series, which shows what man is capable of once he enters the world.

In another series, “Fears” (2006), he experimented with underwater photos, making a case out of a plastic sugar box so he could immerse a camera in water and create a horizon that splits the life happening above and below the surface. He tries to avoid ever staging his photographs; in “Fears,” the 31-year-old spent three days immersed in water, reconstructing the clear box to create the effect he desired. On the first day, the photographs were all of water without any people. By chance, on the second day, groups were picnicking on the shore and and swimming, infusing the photographs with stories that explore relationships. He had perfected the method by the third day, catching people in mid-thought or gesture. Symbolic and murky, the images capture mysterious figures above on the lake side and limbs immersed in water. (As works displayed are being rotated during the exhibition, “Fears” is not currently on show.)

Biveinis says photography in Lithuania tends toward the personal rather than the global and believes that it swings between being documentary and being art photography, but never tries to capture both at the same time. The country itself sways between two poles of influence: “Russians think we are European, and Europeans consider us to be Russian,” says Biveinis.

Gabija Zukauskiene, the Culture Attache to the Lithuanian Embassy (a cosponsor of the exhibition), is responsible for bringing the photographer to Tokyo. In the time Zukauskiene spent with him on his first trip to Tokyo, she says that the young artist is always watching for subjects.

Walking in Shibuya, he wanted to capture a couple kissing in the famous crosswalk. He went around asking people to smooch each other in public, but reports that “I think 10 couples said ‘no.’ One couple said ‘maybe,’ but were shaking their heads. When they did kiss, they were posing so much that when I saw the photos, I deleted them. Just immediately deleted them!”

Such perfectionism gives his photographs a flawless sheen. Firm in his mind are the images that he wants to replicate in reality, so he just waits for that moment to occur.

After lunch, returning to the crossing, the vigilant photographer saw a couple embracing and ran toward them to capture the spontaneous moment. His eyes wide in wonder and excitement, the Lithuanian says that in moments like that, photography is fate: “To find it or not find it, that is destiny.”

“Vidas Biveinis” is at Gallery Strenger in Azabu Juban till Oct. 11; open noon-7 p.m. (by appointment only on Mon.). For more information, call (03) 5443-8894 or visit www.gallery-strenger.jp