Great and real things start to look mundane or at least are taken for granted when we get used to them. They cease to excite curiosity, one the most common and trivial human feelings. We tend to be amazed by things that are sensational, unexpected and new. We are always waiting for some affront. We are stunned by novelty or sensation even if it is absolutely flat. Habits overshadow things of real value, things that do not strike the eye, and turn us indifferent towards them. That was how we grew accustomed to the photo art of the ‘great generation’ ? Sutkus, Kuncius, Rakauskas, Macijauskas, Dichavicius, Ruikas, Naujikas. Sutkus – It is so simple and boring, “an intellectual” would proclaim after you mention Antanas Sutkus? photographs. I remember well a remark made by some critic about Sigitas Geda, “he went so far that we could not see him”. The same could be said about Antanas Sutkus. These words could also be paraphrased: Antanas Sutkus is so close, he has became such an inseparable a part of our cultural identity, that we even do not notice him as we do not notice our hand or some favorite comfortable garment.
But I remember the 60ies when the “great generation” broke into our culture as if from nowhere, and its acclaimed leader and initiator was Antanas Sutkus. The photo universe created by these men was a real miracle. I would not dwell on their opposition to the totalitarian pseudo art, I would just remind that Sutkus and his colleagues have established (for the first time) the tradition of Lithuanian photography that is continued up till our days, that is acknowledged both in the East and in the West. Searching for analogues of this unique art phenomenon, I recalled the XVII century Dutch painting, that had also appeared as if from nowhere, but became an inseparable part of European culture as the photo art of Antanas Sutkus and his colleagues became a very distinct part of Lithuanian culture.
How one is to define the essence of this tradition? Employing philosophical jargon I would define it as follows: it is the metaphysics of plastic simplicity that has acquired some material shape, the plastics of human and material daily life ? an eloquent tale of world`s silence. This photography is devoid of any extremes characteristic to the rococo-baroque style, any excess, any artificial tricks, oddities or extravagant effects, any pretentious technical manipulations. Simplicity of the highest standard is the most characteristic feature of Antanas Sutkus – photography and it is this feature that links up his oeuvre with works of great style in any genre. But it is far from being plane reportage simplicity. Antanas Sutkus? photography is many-layered, even symbolic, that is metaphysical, overstepping the boredom and banality of photographic “realism”. This photography opens up the multidimensional structure of the world and soul, another dimension, regardless of how we call it: hope space, mystery abode, the continent of truth and beauty. Looking at simple photographs by Antanas Sutkus there is little to be said as words add nothing that could not be found in a photo sheet, where a simple miracle, the mystery of truth, is taking place all the time; the truth of hard, austerely elemental life, that is much more present here than in the life itself. A.Sutkus’s mission is to turn banality into truth, and his huge creative heritage is the best proof that it has been accomplished. We have to acknowledge that without his photographs our cultural life would be much more poorer and common. If these photographs would suddenly disappear, there would remain a black hole in the tapestry of our culture that could not be filled by anything else.
Contemporary, postmodern photography is based on an amazingly improved technical means and special effects. There are cameras, at least half a meter long, super optics, and electronic miracles protruding from every shot, regardless of what is photographed. A photographer, or to be more exact, his camera, becomes more important than the object photographed. Various techniques tend to overshadow the real life and the object photographed. Antanas Sutkus is completely different. He trusts all that is alive – his eyes and an object or a human being that he respects and loves. He looks into the object he loves till his eyes hurt. A.Sutkus never demonstrates his techniques and the possibilities they present. For him, techniques are a long ago mastered thing taken for granted, thus he sees no need to demonstrate them. To tell the truth, he is even unaware of them as a man who is so used to his glasses that is oblivious of them, but sees the things he is looking at. That was the way all great masters worked: for them techniques were a clear glass used to look into the material and human masses of the world – the wrinkled face of the world and the man – as intently as possible. I think that wrinkles of existence interest Antanas Sutkus most, and he sees them perfectly well. And knows how to show them to us. He is an artist of great style, and the main feature of great style is that it remains unseen. Instead, we see the things themselves. “Objectivity of the highest degree”, was Schopenhauer`s definition of the great art; and these are the words that could be used to define the art of Antanas Sutkus.
Daily life is a boring thing. All have equal rights to daily life; there is no need for any Daily Life Defense Committee! Persistently trying to keep pace with the present day we have learned to contemplate, to meditate and many other splendid things. And maybe observation of daily life is a form of meditation open to all of us? Meditation, which does not need schools or guru.
Daily life is universal, it does not submit to anybody.
I return to the past and see that I can remember neither time nor places where this or that photograph was ‘caught’. And I am constantly short of time! There remain only early morning hours that can be spent drinking coffee, smoking and going through the archives.
Childhood memories – nostalgia for bare feet. Like first beloved that we never forget.
When is a man most happy? In childhood. Children enjoy daily life best. Holidays do not bring joy as they are celebrated by grown-ups.
Very often a modern man does not have time for daily life. When we see snow in the morning, we curse it for causing difficulties on roads, but we forget that snow is white and soft. We have no time to enjoy sleet, falling leaves or windows, lit up in the evening. We cannot longer imagine life behind those windows.
Do I know how to live here and now? Do I realize that only time is almighty?
Supermarkets supplant churches and museums. The main slogan is “work, buy and die!”. Such daily life also exists, and that is the wronged mode of life.
Daily life has got lost among phone calls, important meetings, electronic information, and political scandals. Do I need it?
I have started the cycle that I myself call “Lithuanian people” a long time ago, and there is no end to it. An image captured on a negative is already a memory. About half a million memories ? how large has to be a box to contain them?
Photography came too late. What were they like, pre-photography people?
Urban and rural people used to take pictures of themselves, they did not photograph. They stood before a camera solemn, almost like at a confessionary?
It is difficult to take photos today. My staff has left me, the environment has grown aggressive. Now people more often offer to break your camera than ask to take their pictures.
More and more often I experience Faustian joy – I take pictures in youth, collecting photos of bygone days and looking at them with a feeling of a man who is passing on. This is the point where life?s knowledge and intuition meet. That`s all I have.
via Antanas Sutkus — FotoArtFestival.