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Algimantas Kunčius
About the Author
  • Born 1939 in Pakruojis.
  • Member of Lithuanian photographers' union.
  • Works owned by private collectors in Lithuania and abroad.
About the Artworks
Algimantas Kunčius is one of the most distinct representatives of the generation that shaped the Lithuanian School of Photography. Born in the town of Pakruojus in 1939, the artist, like other famous members of the Lithuanian school such as Antanas Sutkus and Vilius Rakauskas, began his photographic career while studying in Vilnius. The future photographer studied law at the University of Vilnius in 1958­–1960 and went on to study in the Faculty of Music at Vilnius Pedagogical University. Like other founders of the Lithuanian School, Kunčius gained some experience in photojournalism: in 1965­–1981 he was a photographer for the cultural magazine Kultūros barai (Cultural Fields). At the beginning of his career, Kunčius participated in the recurrent exhibitions that helped photography become established in Lithuania as an equal to the other arts. In 1968 his work was shown together with that of Vilius Naujikas, Rakauskas, and Sutkus in an exhibition at the Vilnius Art Museum, and in 1969 Kunčius participated in an important show of nine Lithuanian photographers in Moscow, following which Russian critics began to speak about the Lithuanian School of Photography and the Lithuanian Photographic Art Society was formed.
But Kunčius was not only connected to the Lithuanian School because he belonged to the generation of photographers that shaped it or because he participated in important events and organizational work. More significantly, his photography embodied the worldview that was characteristic to that school. This is especially striking in early cycles of his work, of which the most famous is Sekmadieniai (Sundays, 1968–1985). Here we can see the Lithuanian School’s characteristic attention to rural life and traditions, including reportage-like records of religious feast days in the Lithuanian countryside or by the sea. In one photograph, for example, figures dressed in their “Sunday best” stand out among the crowd of holidayers on a Palanga beach. Because of its implied religious motifs, the Sekmadieniai series was even censored during the Soviet period. As photography critic Skirmantas Valiulis and historian Stanislovas Žvirgždas recall: “The complete portfolio remained in the margins along with the ideological question of where people were going through the meadows and rye fields on those feast days.”
On the other hand, even while choosing themes typical of the Lithuanian School and using its founders’ preferred reportage technique, Kunčius found his own distinct perspective:
I don’t record [. . .] special situations which would be the centre of the image, become a plot or even dictate its dramaturgy. [. . .] I am more interested in spaces in which I do not need to focus on any one person. I like different kinds of relationships between characters, so that I can place emphasis in different ways, so that there can be multiple levels and many moving lines.
Looking at the whole of Kunčius’s oeuvre from today’s perspective, it is possible to see another distinct feature: its variety of themes and genres. Of equal importance to his documentary works are his photographs of Vilnius architecture, as well as his broad understanding of the genres of landscape and still life. As early as 1969, Kunčius published an album devoted to the architecture of the capital’s Old Town, Senojo Vilniaus vaizdai (Scenes of Old Vilnius). In 1976–1985 he created the Reminiscencijos (Reminiscences) cycle, which consisted of photographs of various everyday objects and fragments of urban or rural life; these were works which did not conform to either the Lithuanian School’s predominant creative principles or the state’s ideological ones. In 1985–2001, Kunčius photographed expressive images of the sky in his book Debesys (Clouds); in 1985–1998, he created the landscape series Toliai (Distances).
Despite this variety of genres and themes, Kunčius’s different photographic cycles are unified by the author’s idea of the “photographic.” According to photography scholar Agnė Narušytė, through this idea the artist connects to the roots of photography and its original function: “[to] simply stop manifestations of reality created and destroyed by time.” In other words, Kunčius is interested in photography as an “objective” reflection of reality – one that has not only an artistic, but also a documentary value. In recording an image, the photographer does not interfere with it, and he does not alter that original reflection of reality in the process of transferring it to paper. Nor is this impression of neutrality in Kunčius’s photographs muddled by the artist’s own perspective, which, in some of his colleagues’ (e.g., Aleksandras Macijauskas’s) works results in more expressive imagery. Rather, Kunčius’s seemingly objective reflections of reality reveal the artist’s subtle, intangible lyricism, as though the photograph itself was conveying the recorded moment’s moods and states, which in turn make the objects and spaces represented meaningful to the human eye.
Another result of Kunčius’s goal of exploring the “photographic” is his very refined printing technique. As Narušytė writes about the Toliai series:
The photographer does his own printing, one could almost say constructing the shapes and sizes of large and small objects by hand. His unique, perfected technique shapes the image from the tiniest grains, recalling the effect of a drawing. Sometimes it even seems that one can see molecules – the grains of silver salts lighten the gradation of his already gentle grey halftones.
The variety of Kunčius’s oeuvre, and in particular his emotional and stylistic reserve, unique interpretations of characteristic themes and his humanistic worldview enhance the Lithuanian School’s panorama. Kunčius’s photographs are “non-literary” – they do not contain the clear metaphors, narratives, crucial moments and clearly expressed dramas typical of the Lithuanian School. Kunčius’s works do not offer “narratives” about the things that concern many of the school’s members – such as Lithuanianness, the country’s landscape, and human relations – but rather simply show them, allowing their subtle beauty to be revealed.
Tomas Pabedinskas
All works by this artist
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