Dance Night: Provincial Lithuanian Discos in Andrew Miksys Project
American photographer has photographed Lithuanian rural nightclubs, which are stuck between the Soviet past and the uncertain future.
I was in a small town near Vilnius and noticed some teenagers going into a building with a crate of beer. I followed them and found a disco. The interior was very simple – just a disco ball and a portrait of Lenin on the wall. Not sure why the Lenin was still there, but I thought it was great. Seemed like a perfect space to take some portraits and I returned to photograph several times. I really liked the contrast between the teenagers and the Soviet-era interior. Lithuania was going through a lot of changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and these spaces became a great place to explore the past and the rather uncertain future of the kids in the clubs. I soon discovered that there were similar discos in small towns and villages all over Lithuania and began to make trips to discos on Friday and Saturday nights.
I started the project in 2000 and finished in 2010. I took some breaks working on the project, but it did take me about 10 years before I thought it was finished.
My work falls somewhere between documentary photography and fine art photography. I like being in this middle ground where there is some ambiguity and everything isn’t completely spelled out for the viewer. I’m interested in photographs that ask questions instead of trying to tell the viewer what to think.
The DISKO project was heavily criticised in the Lithuanian press. The journalists thought I was a foreign photoreporter trying to make a simple report on the shadier aspects of post-Soviet Lithuania. Lithuanian journalism is not very professional, so most of the accusations I received were the result of journalists not having fact-checked or wanting to write a sensationalist piece. My real intent was to concentrate deeply on the very rich and complicated history of Lithuania.
I found this quite amazing and tragic. But it also gave me a way to think about the incredible history of Jewish history in Lithuania and the murder of almost all the Jews during the war. Many of the cultural centers also had back rooms filled with remnants of the USSR like gas masks, Soviet movie posters, and Lenin paintings. Just a decade before all this stuff had such strong ideological power and now it’s garbage. I don’t always reference this history directly in my photographs, but investigating all this historical context is important to the way I work. Then there were the teenagers who seemed somewhat lost between the past and the uncertain future as Lithuania moved toward joining the European Union. In the DISKO book, I tried to edit the images in a way to tell this story and hint at some of these issues.
I had no difficutlies shooting. Of course, some people were a bit suspicious when an American guy speaking bad Lithuanian showed up at their village disco. But usually, after a few minutes or a shot of vodka, people welcomed me and really took care of me while I was photographing.
I’m never totally satisfied. I always see how I can make things better. But I was happy that the first edition of DISKO sold out and I just recently published a second edition.