Antanas Sutkus - A Free View

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

By Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Photography

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Antanas Sutkus - A Free View (2012)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The Scent of Time

Antanas Sutkus believes that photography is impossible without love. “My credo is to love man. It has been a long time since I learnt that as so to photograph, one has to love people and life”, says Sutkus. Inserted in a context in which socialist ideology was an obligation, Sutkus managed to live and photograph without attaching himself to or losing himself in the ideological rules and boundaries. The 120 photos, which arrived at the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, portrait the freedom and passion in the Lithuanian artist’s view. Sutkus writes with light and soul, and the clicks capture the instant towards eternity. Yet, the images do not evoke memories, but a continuous present moment which introduces people with their mysteries and idiosyncrasies. Subject to his time, he experienced photography through an analogue fashion, and has restrictions on the digital process. “Digital cameras reduce the photographer’s responsibility, one loses attention due to the possibility of shooting many times and fast”, states Sutkus, to whom, in photography, shooting is essential. “I wait for the right moment and shoot”. For Sutkus, photography has to penetrate the viewer’s soul. And his photographs have that power. The interlocutor transforms himself before the Lithuanian’s images. “For me, it is important that my photographs witness and transmit the scent of time”, says the photographer. Indeed: in “Antanas Sutkus: a free view”, another culture discloses itself to the senses.

Children, Antanas Sutkus, 1960, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Children under umbrellas, Antanas Sutkus, 1963, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Boy with a newspaper hat, Antanas Sutkus, 1964, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Maternal hand (1964) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Toys, Antanas Sutkus, 1965, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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First date, Antanas Sutkus, 1968, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Summer in Salakas, Antanas Sutkus, 1978, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Sailor, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Competition for the School of Art, 1 (1966) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

What is your family history?

I was born in Lithuania, in the village of Kluoniskiai, on the banks of the river Neminas. My father worked on the peaty swamp of Ezerelis. He was a free thinker, and was a left supporter. During the initial years of the Soviet occupation, the new government involved my father in the process of political restructuring due to his political views. Nevertheless, my father never supported the communists. Political circumstances forced him to commit suicide.
I lost my father when I was one year old. My mother, Stase, left me with my grandparents in 1941, after the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. She had to hide due to my father’s death. No one had explained the Nazis my father was no communist. Upon the Soviets’ return, he had to hide as my stepfather was a soldier of the Lithuanian Independent Army. Thus, I was raised without my parents, together with my grandparents Uršule and Vincas Urbonavičiai. They never spoke to me about my father and never told me why mother could not live with us either. We occasionally saw her, though I missed my father badly. A rather disturbing thought would haunt me: he never loved me and hence killed himself.
I can recall the villagers preparing themselves to rest. They smoked cigarettes, sitting on tree trunks and talking about politics. They wondered whether the Americans would come and help them.
My life teachers were my grandparents. They baptised and raised me as a Catholic. We were poor. Besides, I caught tuberculosis, which I caught from my teacher, from whom I would borrow books. I started reading at the age of seven. I cannot remember how I learnt it, although I read much in both Russian and Lithuanian. Thus, my life history is directly interconnected to the Lithuanian country side. Perhaps this is the reason why I know so well simple people and why they are so close to me.

Blind pioneer, Antanas Sutkus, 1962, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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School for blind children. Boys, Antanas Sutkus, 1962, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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School for blind children. Chestnuts, 1, Antanas Sutkus, 1962, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Province (1969) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

After the notary, Antanas Sutkus, 1959, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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New Year's Eve. Trees, Antanas Sutkus, 1960, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Winter geometry, Antanas Sutkus, 1960, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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University street marathon (1959) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

When and how did you start photographing?

I bought my first camera with the money I earned myself. During school holidays I would work helping a tractor driver on a peaty swamp. I bought a radio and a camera with all development and printing equipment. My excitement was great when I first developed an image on a sheet of white paper! I started photographing at the age of fifteen or sixteen. The peaty swamp, relatives and friends of mine were pictured on these initial photos. Only a few of these photos still exist. In 1958 I left home and started my studies at the University of Vilnius. My young cousin used my negatives as firework. That was a good lesson to me: keep everything you photograph. Perhaps, due to this fact, there are approximately one million negatives in my archives.
I know that many photographers have “cleaned up” their archives. But today I find both interesting and new material in mine. My world vision and my photographic aesthetics have changed greatly over the years. I made an exhibition and published a book called “Files of the Everyday Life” with images I had not published before. There are many reasons for my not doing this before...

Young mother, Antanas Sutkus, 1968, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Bell, Antanas Sutkus, 1967, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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On a bridge, Antanas Sutkus, 1968, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Pilot, Antanas Sutkus, 1972, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Belarusian tourists, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Immigrant in own country (1964) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

The reason why I photograph is not to reflect the objective reality. People are the way they are. If I take their photos though, they are my people, the people I see. I use my camera to scan the world surrounding us.

With grandfather, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Old woman with a toy, Antanas Sutkus, 1974, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Song Festival. Dance Day, 1, Antanas Sutkus, 1975, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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In the Baltic Sea, Antanas Sutkus, 1971, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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In Zapyskis, Antanas Sutkus, 1956, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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In the workers' field, Antanas Sutkus, 1959, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Melody of solitude (1977) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Do literature as well as other arts also exert great influence on your work ? Your photography “Melody in Solitude” surpasses the photographic sphere, sounding through the paper a sad melody... What is the importance of other arts in your work and how does this importance comes to light?

My first teachers were writers such as Camus, Kafka, Kerouac, Faulkner, Sallinger, Marquez, Kobo Abe, Dostoevsky Bulgakov. Tuberculosis contributed much to my education as I was able to read books over the course of sixteen hours a day which I spent in hospital. Cinema also influenced me: Bergman, Antonioni, Bunuel… Various artistic impulses are essential to the work with art. Art helps me understand the problems of the planet, the problems of the man. Music is assuredly the art which most deeply permeates the soul, I call it divine talk.

Springtime, Antanas Sutkus, March, 1960, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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The face of an era, Antanas Sutkus, 1981, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Night ice hockey, Antanas Sutkus, 1971, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Song Festival. «Rabbits in a wardrobe», Antanas Sutkus, 1970, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Photographic Record of the Exhibition Antanas Sutkus - A Free View (2012)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Lazdynai. Paving, Antanas Sutkus, 1976, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Street of a village, 6, Antanas Sutkus, 1969, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Street of a village, Antanas Sutkus, 1969, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Street of a village, 2 (1969) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Who are your favourite photographers? Who are your influences?

I have a great library of worldwide famous photographers. I am interested in their ideas and their ways of expression. I like the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Arnold Newman, Annie Leibowitz, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark. Books which I am given from Germany, Poland and bought at second-hand book stores in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. I bought the book “Family of Man” by Edward Steinchen very early. It was very important to me that photography could influence me the same way as literature. The exhibition by Paul Strand, which I visited during one of my first trips abroad, left me a great impression.
However, the photography never had a great influence on my photographic style. By the time I started to follow the photography events around the world, I had already found out my personality.

Autumn morning, Antanas Sutkus, 1965, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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The morning after the wedding, Antanas Sutkus, 1981, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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At the immigrants' cafe, Antanas Sutkus, 1991, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Photographic Record of the Exhibition Antanas Sutkus - A Free View (2012)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Visit of John Paul II in Lithuania, Antanas Sutkus, 1993, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Night at the bus station, Antanas Sutkus, 1963, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Siblings, Antanas Sutkus, 1968, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Goodbye, party comrades! (1991) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Were you free to photograph anything you wished to, or was there some sort of censorship?

I was free to photograph whatever I wanted. I had to be careful, though, with the militias in town. On the fields I could do anything I wanted. Public spaces, magazines and exhibitions were under control of the censorship. It was forbidden to show psychological works and other photos which would jeopardise the social order. The pathetic and the optimism were requisite. My photograph “Pioneer” was awarded with the Michelangelo d'Oro in Marina di Pietrasanta, Italy, in 1970. It was published in the magazine “Sovetskoje foto“ (Soviet Photograph). Readers of the issue complained to the Central Committee in Moscow (responsible for the censorship), calling my picture “other Solzhenytzin”. My Muscovite friends backed me up and stated that my “Pioneer” posed no danger to society.
I think there was a reason for these issues. The political context had changed and new interpretations were coming to light. Nonetheless, I managed not to give in to the ideological influence. The political situation was less severe in Lithuania as opposed to other republics of the Soviet Union. This was another reason why I could work with more freedom. In 1956, I published, alongside with my colleague, Romualdas Rakauskas, the album “Vilniaus siokiadieniai” (Everday Life in Vilnius). One cannot find an ideological image in this album. The photos talk only about normal people’s quotidian life.

In the market, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Girl with braids, Antanas Sutkus, 1979, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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At the train station, Antanas Sutkus, 1964, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Last summer (1968) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Hands, Antanas Sutkus, 1963, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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LTSR 1917-1967, Antanas Sutkus, 1967, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Knights, Antanas Sutkus, 1979, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Photographic Record of the Exhibition Antanas Sutkus - A Free View (2012)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Miss Burgas, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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At the bus station, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Morocco Oranges, Antanas Sutkus, 1975, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Santa Ana Church (1961) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

In 1958, I entered the Vilnius University. I came from Ezerelis on the bank of the river Nemunas and I got a room in the Old Town of Vilnius. My dormitory window looked at the University Street. Since then, two places have remained forever in my heart: the Cathedral Square and the St. Ann's Church. I have climbed many roofs of churches and buildings while taking pictures therefore I know them by heart.

Vilnius streets seen from the roof, Antanas Sutkus, 1963, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Simas. September 1st, Antanas Sutkus, 1972, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Simas. Holiday, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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In the old Jewish cemetery. My son, Antanas Sutkus, 1968, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Street workers, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Lithuanian family (1967) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

What was the relation that you cultivated with the personages of your photographs? When you look at your own photographs, do you feel them near, or, like Frederico Fellini, you keep a distance regarding your photos?

I feel no distance. On the contrary, my “heroes” are to me, at times, even more important than my relatives. They remind me that I love them. It is a long time that I learnt that, in order to photograph, it is necessary to love people and life. Without love photography would be unconceivable.

Lithuanian Church, Antanas Sutkus, 1967, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Rain, Antanas Sutkus, 1971, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Restoration, Antanas Sutkus, 1967, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Maryte, Antanas Sutkus, 1964, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Residents of the historic center (1968) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Although a great deal of your photographs just portrait Lithuania, people across the world relate to the photos and feel close to your heroes. Were you aware of this possibility?

I was entirely unaware, and this is a great joy to me. I think that one of the tasks of photography is to enable understanding among distinguished cultures. I live in a period of many conflicts, and I believe that one of the reasons for such a thing is the lack of information. We do not know well enough other cultures with which we live. Thus, I believe that photography may have a great future. The future of our civilisation depends on mutual tolerance and understanding. So photography might be quite useful: to serve humanity.

Fence, Antanas Sutkus, 1973, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Winter in the suburb, Antanas Sutkus, 1965, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Basement Dweller, Antanas Sutkus, 1962, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Neringa. In retro style (1968) by Antanas SutkusOscar Niemeyer Museum

Credits: Story

Realization: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Curatorship: Luiz Gustavo Carvalho
Photographer: Marcello Kawase

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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