Antanas Sutkus (b. 1939-). A master of monochrome documentary photography, Sutkus has had a strong influence on the development of photography in the Baltic. His lucid and extraordinary images of everyday events in his Lithuanian homeland have been compared to the humanistic approach of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz.
Sutkus’ body of work bears witness to the country’s subjection to Soviet rule, presenting a visual history of Communism in an objective but humanistic documentary style. Throughout, it is the daily trials of ordinary Lithuanians from rural villages that tell the story.
Beyond recording events, Sutkus’ keen eye finds history in human faces. Portraits such as the profoundly affecting Blind Pioneer (1962) radiate pathos, the product of intense sensitivity on the part of the photographer. Indeed, Sutkus’ humanistic approach, in debt to Cartier-Bresson, comes to the fore in both his images of children and old people. Treading a delicate path that is rooted in care for his subjects, the photographer manages to avoid sentimentality in recording the passage of being into life – and towards death. Filled with romance, beauty and sadness, they move beyond photographic realism like stills from an unmade film. His stated aim is ‘to make an attempt at drawing a psychological portrait of contemporary man’. He continues – ‘future generations will judge our way of life, our culture and our inner world on the basis of photographs.’ The selection on show in Lithuanian Portraits are his testimony.
As a child Sutkus worked with his mother digging peat; not earning enough to buy for a bicycle he bought a camera instead. He later became a photojournalist and, since 1969, has worked as an independent photographer. Co-founder and President of the Photography Art Society of Lithuania which championed photography as an art form, Sutkus helped gain international recognition for Lithuanian photographers. He now devotes more time to archiving images but has an enduring passion for photography saying, ‘I have not got tired of taking photographs but I find it ever more difficult to find my subjects. One has to love people in order to take pictures of them.’
In 2001-02, Sutkus won the Erna & Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, Sweden, for ‘Documentation and Conservation of Antanas Sutkus’ Archive of Photographs’. His works are displayed in the collections of Lithuanian Museum of Art, Vilnius; National Library, Paris; Museum of French Photography, Paris; Museum of Photography, Helsinki; International Centre of Photography, New York; Institute of Arts, Chicago; Art Museum, Minneapolis; Art Museum, Boston; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm; and The Moscow House of Photography.
Supported by Lithuanian Ministry of Culture.
Curated with Anya Stonelake