The remediation of Juozas Lukys’ (1927-2001) photographic legacy employs the photographic negatives from Alzamay, Irkustk Oblast made in deportation, and in Lithuania during several years following his repatriation.

Photography by Alvydas Lukys’ (b. 1958, after his parents’ repatriation to Homeland), from the series Ars Botanica.

Jonas and Agota Lukiai, with their son Juozas, a minor, deported in 1948 from their farm in Buvainiai village in the region of Joniškis, also Kazimieras and his wife Stanislava with their children Aldona and Algimantas, deported the same year from Sauginiai village in the region of Šiauliai, found themselves sharing the same barrack. After some time, though under a burden of hard forced labour, all of them together managed to start a little farm. Aldona and Juozas got married, and Juozas’ sister Eugenija, who by a miracle had escaped deportation, after Stalin’s death shipped her brother a camera.

Human dignity and the need for beauty, in spite of all the losses, of a constant state of humiliation and near starvation, of imposed ideology, became my source of inspiration for this project. It was the first thing to catch my attention and make the deepest impression on me in my father’s pictures taken in Siberia and in Lithuania, when they returned and had to start their life from scratch. All their property was appropriated and they were not allowed to resettle in their homes.

My father’s family picture albums were my first real school of photography.  Thanks to him, I was introduced into technical aspects of the trade, too, like the making of developing agents (my dad used his own term of ‘concocting a medicine’), the printing process of photographs and skills of achieving quality in a print.

The following are some essential insights that led me to create this visual narrative: the term ‘to be pictured’ (or ‘to picture’) as used by my father; his distinctly agrarian relationship to nature I perceived in the pictures; the beautiful, natural surroundings of vegetation and plants serving as the main backdrop and décor of the picture, and the existential attempt to throw a white shroud over the hard and miserable quotidian life.

Many years elapsed since, and I surprised myself with my new interest in plants and in growing them. For me it was nothing as straightforward as farming or as scientific botanical studies, but more of an observation of nature, the process of learning based on success and failure in growing plants. The aesthetics rooted in the observation of plants evolved into a project that has engaged me for over a decade.

This exhibition includes only a selection of artwork from the project. It is one of many possible versions of Ars Botanica. I take pictures of plants in their natural environment in different seasons with a foldable camera, at a minimal distance. This method allows an abstracted look, an ornamental sort of aesthetics.

The colour film of medium format and uncoated optics of the early past century accentuate the primacy of form yet more. The option of such lenses was dictated not only by my aesthetic aims. My dad in Siberia used similar equipment: Moskva-5 was a Soviet copy of Zeiss Ikon. It turned out he used a colour film, too. One of such images, on display too, prompted in me the overall idea of this undertaking. My pictures of nature emerge in this exhibition like my dad’s aesthetic dreams brought to life. I believe he would approve of this. No matter all the tribulations the need for aesthetics and beauty for him was a natural sense, undoubtedly this lifeline for preserving optimism I discover every time when I delve into to his negatives or the printed photographic images.

Alvydas Lukys
The autumn of 2020

The exhibition financed by Lithuanian Council for Culture