Fotografas R. Ščerbauskas
© R. Ščerbauskas

Photojournalist Artūras Morozovas believes that social topics can be discussed everywhere and the whole social stratification in our society. An interview with the photographer who has recorded the conflicts of Georgia and Ukraine. An interesting talk about the war, the role of culture in various conflict zones as well as Artūras’ local Kalnieciai micro district and its uniqueness.
We ask our interviewees to choose a location in Kaunas for the interview that is personally important to them. Why did you choose the Cecenija square (Chechnya square)?
I remember this Kaunas location from an early age when the old fountains were still here. I grew up in the neighborhood, in the nearby yard. My parents still live there, and I consider this place my home. I still have a picture of me in a white, bloodstained shirt: I have knocked out my first tooth against the curb of this fountain. I used to cross this square every time I went to the former „Vitebsk” supermarket or to Kalnieciai park. In my childhood, I used to swim in the fountains as children do the same today. Once the square seemed gray and boring, I wanted to escape it, did not want to see it as well as the entire neighborhood. Later, after leaving Kaunas I saw the area with different eyes. I discovered a particular aesthetics in the concrete boxes, monoliths.
Because of your work, you often find yourself in the areas of military, ethnic, and social conflicts where culture moves to a whole new level. What is the role of culture in those hot spots and what sense do you find in it?
If we perceive culture as the morals of the people, mutually respectful interaction, then, of course, the culture in these areas changes significantly. There is a high influence of feelings like revenge or hatred on it. Two people – have they met under different circumstances – could be good friends and discuss football, music, or art, but during military conflicts begin to hate or even want to kill each other. People who have a primitive understanding of warfare see only muddy trenches and tanks. They might be very surprised by the fact that there is a lot of art in warfare. Probably there haven’t been more theatrical revolution than in Maidan, Ukraine. A new graffiti occurred every day, there were numerous gigs where people came to support the nightly protesters, they made barricades, sang for them. They say that Ukrainian humor emerged because of this revolution. I still go there and speak with the fighters. I remember a conversation with the leader of one group. He told me how during the most difficult time, when they couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and the soldiers felt broken, their morale was very low, they lacked water, there were no basic unitary conditions, the fighters would gather at the heater and, under a constant enemy fire, sang Ukrainian folk songs. One of their leaders once told me: „Thank you very much for your help and for everything that Lithuania sends us, but bring us a string quartet. I miss it very much! I never thought I could like classical music, but now I could give away anything just to hear it.” Perhaps the war mobilizes national feelings. Never before there were so many people in Ukraine wearing a vishvan, a Ukrainian national costume, singing Ukrainian songs, writing poetry. In my trips to the front lines, I made a collection of photos which have captured the soldiers, who while on duty somewhere in the fields wrote down their pieces in abandoned spaces. Those soldiers who have never created. War always has a specific soundtrack. It’s not just the shootings. These are songs, art, and performances. It is interesting that the two fighting sides are used to an armed fight, but when some artistic message comes our way, we do not really know how to respond to it. It seems to me that Ukrainians understood this very well and that’s why there were regular attempts to provoke the enemy in artistic language.
Does culture often become a tool of political propaganda?
Usually, propaganda is one of the viewpoints of interpretations. The fighting sides often opt for different interpretations. One of the most common propaganda models is an attempt to distort the history by emphasizing different things. The example of this is making up of a collective history: stating that the nations aren’t separate, and only a joint formation exists. The culture and art serve for this purpose. When during Ukrainian conflict separatist movements started, I observed the power of nostalgia, Soviet songs, flags, various attributes that people, especially the older generation, knows and associates with their childhood. And namely those highly accurate pin pricks right on the spot, amid the “Katyusha”, and “Den Pobedy” (en. Victory Day), and display of veteran photos, convince people that a joint formation exists. This way, art, and culture are part of the propaganda. During Georgian conflict – you can see the pictures of it behind me – the Russians threatened the population of Gori, where Stalin was born, that the new government would demolish the monument and museum of Stalin. People considered it to be a greater evil than the closure of some factory due to war. The museum and monument are part of the city history. Despite the fact that the nation was severely damaged by the Stalinist regime, they rushed to defend it. Georgians support the government, but they want to keep certain cultural attributes that are dear to them.
In your photojournalism series, you choose the problematic subjects that make us reflect on the failures of the social and political systems. Most of them were implemented in the zones of war and various large-scale conflicts. Do you find any similar issues – though perhaps they are not so obvious – in Lithuania? Kaunas?
You can find social topics exploring any country, cultural community, or group of people. Social photography isn’t just a black-and-white photography of third world countries or poor people. It covers all social classes, therefore, there is no need to go somewhere else, if you want to capture socially sensitive subjects. There are plenty of those in the Kalnieciai district of Kaunas, here in Lithuania, and the photographers love to explore them in particular. Lithuanian photography that was once famous for its social topics, reportages that focused on human lives, problems, and daily life, today, has moved away from the subject, and a look from the outside reveals a certain vacuum in this field. That’s why I work with young people in the Kaunas Photography Festival, making photography series under a title „The Block Neighborhood”. We take photos of our neighborhood and daily life. It is a sophisticated kind of photography because in the search for the exotic we would love to go somewhere else, but finding your own environment as photogenic is quite difficult. I feel that speaking about social issues is possible in Lithuania too, you can find really interesting ones here. Once you start you may be quite surprised and know your neighbors, and the environment from a very different angle. A series of photographs in which photographers capture their immediate environment are always very successful: no one knows the space so well as a person who lives there. And the ability to capture it in photos and see its appeal brings truly great results. I always admire Romualdas Rakauskas photography. He has produced his series in the village where he lives. I have always wondered about his skill to find everything photogenic and why he didn’t go to take pictures of the apartment building neighborhoods or shiny Vilnius micro districts.
While I was preparing the exhibition in the Kalnieciai micro district, the local community visited me: they sort of welcomed me as a guest and that was really gratifying.
Are there more people who notice the environment following those exhibitions?
Local people, whose photos I took, lack self-esteem. They think that they have nothing to tell, but when they see themselves in the photographs they feel proud and invite friends to see them, captured in their surroundings.
What would you wish for Kaunas and Kaunas people?
I think that Kaunas is moving in the right direction, I am very hopeful about „Kaunas: European Capital of Culture” project. I believe that it’s a great opportunity for Kaunas to grow stronger, assemble its mosaic – and grasp the interconnectedness of everything – so that an overall picture emerges to show to others. I’d wish for Kaunas to be more open and self-confident. I notice the lack of self-confidence, especially, when I approach a person sitting next to the house entrance or selling the vegetables at the market. They show a certain – perhaps somewhat exaggerated – modesty. I would like to encourage those people and tell them that it doesn’t matter whether we live in Sanciai or Kalnieciai we can be proud of it. I would like to wish for Kaunas to know its direction, remain self-confident, and move forwards.

Video: Marius Paplauskas