‘Photo Amnesty 1988-1999’: an exhibition of photographs by Paulius Lileikis

(Renovuojamas pastatas Vilniaus senamiestyje. 1990 m. Renovation of a building in the Old Town of Vilnius. 1990.)

At 17.30 h. on 15 December 2016 an exhibition of photographs by Paulius Lileikis was opened in Vilnius Town Hall accompanied with a presentation of his album ‘Photo Amnesty 1988-1999’. With this presentation, the Lithuanian Press Photographers’ Club launches a series of authorial photography exhibitions and publications intended to reveal the essence and energy of the real, documentary photography in this increasingly shallow world of today.

The ‘Photo Amnesty’ is a photographic inventory of views eternalising the rebirth of Lithuania. The photos were created in the period between 1988 and 2000 and are now kept imprisoned in archival depths. With their unique photographic images, those fifty works – like fifty case files – document the course of the events and the period of transformation through which the re-emerging Lithuania went. This visual and conceptual revision of my archives lets me declare my own photographic amnesty to those forgotten spaces – portraits, moments of events, views – that testify both to the special spirit of the Nation and to the period of  changing systems which was full of contrasts, writes Paulius Lileikis in his introduction to the exhibition and the accompanying publication.

In his article ‘On the chemistry of image’, art philosopher Virginijus Kinčinaits writes: ‘On the other hand, the revolutionary times of the Sąjūdis were contributing to both adventurism and challenges as it was necessary to create such a new way of depicting the reality that would have been inconceivable in the quagmire of mature socialism. With the national revival gaining momentum, the torpor of the Soviet permafrost, adverse to reportage photography, suddenly tumbled into nothingness being replaced by endless activity, which caught many a photographer unawares. This new vortex of events could have been braved only by the most courageous or perceptive photographers. Some thrived on the energy of action, others assessed everything from a distance inclined towards building an archive of images for the future. From amongst the latter, one could mention the photography album ‘Lithuania 1988–1993’ by Romualdas Požerskis, with its clearly perceptible aesthetic detachment of an observer and a predetermined intention to archive events. Paulius Lileikis belongs to the former; in his case, the roles of an observer and a participant melt together in the dynamism of his yearning-for-novelties camera with its defiant acuteness and the capability to recognise immediately new signs of the emerging reality.

Such qualities of character were indispensable, as society of those times of Sąjūdis was going through new tectonic fractures and chemical reactions. Institutional frictions and division of symbols were producing hitherto unknown forms of energy. Amorphously soft, flexible, crystal configurations of a new reality were emerging. Old rocks were melting and evaporating while revolutionary rally slogans were congealing in the slabs of new monuments. The air was permeated with the smell of blood, winds of freedom, and the atmosphere of misty prematurity. All of this was pierced with dazzling rays of the desired future. It sometimes seems that, with his photographs and in his youthful way, Paulius Lileikis was simply rushing the fulfilment of this dream of a utopian future.’ In addition, Virginijus Kinčinaitie also notes there the historical aspect of Paulius Lileikis’ creative work: ‘As every one of us now travels down memory lane in our individual ways distorted by imagination and our own memories, we acknowledge the significance of Paulius Lileikis’ endeavour to capture those collective moments of tempestuous experiences, which again has become the evidence of that communal spirit lost somewhere in history.<…>The inquisitiveness of Paulius Lileikis and his youthful impudence managed to create an emotional and individualised document of historic events. Nevertheless, it is necessary to acknowledge that any history narrated in word, image or text is already a falsified history, in other words – a quasi-history.’

The exhibition ‘Photo Amnesty1988-1999’ is on show at Vilnius Town Hall (Didžioji g. 31, Vilnius) from 12 to 31 December 2016. 

Paulius Lileikis – a press photographer with professional experience of thirty years – studied journalism (photojournalism) at Vilnius University. A winner of a whole range of different contests, he has often joined the annual Lithuanian Press Photography Contest either as a participant or a member of its jury. He has received the Golden Frame Award of this Contest on three occasions as the winner in the categories ‘Entertainment’ (2002), ‘Political News’ (2004), and ‘News’ (2010). A considerable number of this photographer’s works are held at the Lithuanian Central State Archives; more than a few of his photos have found their way to a variety of textbooks, encyclopaedias or private collections. He has spent years sharing his professional knowledge and experience with students of his former Alma Mater, teaching them the basics of photography; in addition, he has repeatedly been invited to lecture on the principles of photo editing and composition at the Professional Journalism Studies. Since the very first days of the National Revival Movement Sąjūdis, he acted as its chronicler; he worked as a photojournalist for the weekly Mažoji Lietuva which was popular then, and was a co-founder of its Vilnius division. For his photographs eternalising the complicated events of the process to regain Lithuanian independence, Paulius Lileikis was awarded the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana of the Fifth Class of the Republic of Estonia. The photographer spent 18 years earning his bread both as a photocorrespondent and editor for one of the major Lithuanian dailies Lietuvos Rytas.