Six years ago Ilze Vanaga (1979) went to London to work as a photographic assistant. It is only there, she claims, that she realized she wanted to work in photography. Returning to Latvia from time to time, Ilze began photographing friends and acquaintances, as well as her niece Katrina. It was the portraits of the little girl, as well as the location of this photographic series – Ilze’s childhood town of Kuldiga – that laid the foundations of the series Childhood Is Like a Loaded Gun, in which the photographer replays her childhood. The pictures speak of psychological complexes, isolation and trauma common in pre-adolescence, and simultaneously conjure up a pleasant sense of nostalgia for an innocent childhood.
You’ve now been back in Latvia for a year. Why did you decide to come back and what are you up to here?
During those five years I spent in London, I travelled to Latvia every four months to photograph. All of my stories lived in Latvia. The London environment didn’t inspire me to work on my own projects, but through it I acquired a new vision regarding my own purely emotional ties with the people and the things here. It is often the case, from a distance one starts to feel and see things clearer, sharper. London gave me the sense of freedom to know that I can be anywhere. In the midst of all this, I fell in love with a Latvian cowboy; so that was it for London. Now I participate in various projects with the Riga photo-mafia.
How has Latvian fashion photography changed during this time?
Flying back and forth, I would regularly open a Latvian fashion magazine at the airport. Gradually this led me to a state where I did not open them anymore. It’s kind of an uncomfortable position – to assess Latvian fashion photography after having had worked at one of the most important fashion photography studios and assisted some of the world’s top fashion photographers. After that kind of experience it is impossible to look at what is happening here. It seems as if everything is still stuck in the 90-ies. It’s as if we didn’t live on the Planet Earth, as if time wasn’t moving forward. It isn’t adequate to compare Latvian and London markets, but I can find no excuse for laziness, illiteracy and ignorance.
Have the childhood memories been lived out? Are you thinking of continuing working on the Childhood Is Like a Loaded Gun series?
Yes, in some sense they have been lived out. It is a little bit sad because I lost the emotional context of why I was photographing Katrina, but at the same time I am feeling incredibly relieved. Relieved of my own childhood’s puzzle. Though I do hope that I will go on photographing Katrina. She is my muse, but already in a totally different context. This will be a story about her, not me.
The childhood motif in this work is very close to me. I see them as movie characters. The feelings I get from Larry Clark’s Kids and other films are constantly alive in me. The transition from childhood to adolescence appears so true and wonderful to me – how you, with all your huge emotional experiences of a child step into the world of adulthood. And you don’t even understand what is happening to you. This period of confusion fascinates me endlessly. I really want to keep this bond with Katrina, to experience all her changes.
What kind of camera do you use?
A Mamiya RZ 67, along with 10-year-old Kodachrome slide film that I still have the fortune to use. It is not produced anymore, but the wonderful London film-suppliers gave me a whole box.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am participating in project Visual narratives: European borderlines which engages 12 young photography artists from Latvia, Turkey, Iceland, Portugal.