A guide to the New East
New East Photo Prize
Katrina Kepule

Latvian photographer Katrina Kepule describes her method as “subjective documentary” — an intuitive way of working which means she does not always know how a project will end up before she starts editing. Her series Sit Silently, which takes the temperature of contemporary Latvia, took her to the edgelands of Riga, where European and Soviet influences coexist.

I grew up in Iecava, a small town in central Latvia, and moved to the capital, Riga, during the sixth grade of school. During my school years, I collected Elliott Erwitt’s photography books. I was also moved by some local documentarists like Egons Spuris, Inta Ruka and Andrejs Grants. An exhibition on the Magnum photo agency in an old cinema in Riga left a lasting impression on me. While studying at Latvian Academy of Culture (Theory and History of Audio-Visual culture) I continued to be captivated by the creative work of Latvian as well as foreign documentary photographers. It was at this time that I realised that subjectivity and relativity are equally as important to documentary.

From the Enlightened series

I enjoy the work of Alejandro Chaskielberg, Ricardo Cases, Josef Koudelka, Alex Webb, Stephen Gill, Jonas Bendiksen, Akos Major and Martin Usborne to name just a few photographers but I feel that my vision is much more influenced by filmmakers such as Wim Wenders, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, Andrey Tarkovsky, Ivars Seleckis and Laila Pakalniņa. I don’t conform to any ideas in photography that limit me too much. In that sense I feel like an “oldschool” photograper, working mostly intuitively. My approach could be called naive, but at the same time the end result often looks too specific to be considered truly “honest”. This makes my work both easy and complicated at the same time, as it really develops in the process of editing.

As far as I remember, I always used to collect photos based on a subject, mood or form. During my studies at the ISSP I developed the fundamental undertstanding of how to construct a personal project. Outskirts have constantly interested me as zone where time goes by slowly, a territory that does not offer many forms of outlet for people to express themselves, thus letting them be more creative. More than an ideas-led project, Sit Silently works with intuitively gathered material, except I was trying to notice what and why the pictures I took were important to me. The story formed around this question. In this way I think I have always been shooting the project and it is not yet finished, but the foundation was laid during my time at the ISSP between 2013-2015.

I don’t conform to any ideas in photography that limit me too much, working mostly intuitively

From the Madrid series

The title of the series is an abbreviation of a piece from Google Poetics and consists of the most popular phrases searched on the Internet that are associated with the concept of sitting: “Sit silently /sit silently doing nothing / we sit silently and watch the world / we sit silently and watch.” This probably echoed inside me as an introverted person who, despite having permanent wanderlust, tends to spend a lot of time sitting, observing and analysing.

In the project, I have tried to portray silence as a state of contemplation, introverted rest, a way of retrieving or saving energy, and a celebration of life. On the other hand, the silence emerges as a manifestation of dealing with inner dramas through resignation, solving conflicts internally and expressing them only in ambiguous ways. Remaining silent also represents an inner resentment that’s quite common for this post-Soviet territory, like a detached monument.

From the Sit Silently series

Text and image: Katrina Kepule
Interview: Liza Premiyak

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