Visions, Decoded #01
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Jens Olof Lasthein: The Ambivalent and the Spectacular of the White Sea Black Sea Collection
A brief look at the overall photographic corpus of Jens Olof Lasthein (born 1964) until today proves his love for moving. Through short passages from the post-communist former Yugoslavia (Moments in Between) and Central Europe -focusing on Belgium and Charleroi- (Home Among the Black Hills), Lasthein will focus on the cultural and, above all, daily heritage of the erstwhile powerful socialist states (White Sea Black Sea).
From the White to the Black Sea, in their states near the borders, such as Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and through autonomous but unrecognized geographical areas, such as Transnistria, the photographer captures a lifetime waiting, trying to regain its political and ethnic balance. In his frames, the battle between two different mechanisms is identified through their sloping nature and the dim light: The latter often causes the photo and the subject-matter to overexpose, building an atmosphere quite absurd in its own irrationality. As Lasthein argues, he “wants his photographs to include contradictions and absurdity, and [...] to tell parallel stories of hope and despair, joy and sorrow”.
And indeed, the photos of Lasthein have a strong narrative mode, while constituting a set of multiple contrasts: the old Soviet world with the relics of a collaborative material culture, the American invasion, the Westernization, which has been intended through customs and clothing (exemplified in this instance with the sports tracksuit of a well-known European brand), but went wrong. And yet, the outdated structures that serve life, which in turn is trying to choose the way it will get through: a pre-capitalist way or into the rumble of globalization?
The frames are set up in a standard environment, familiar to the participants: it is either entertainment, landscapes, roads, or the public transport. However, in the typical and expected composition, the characters reveal the unfamiliar through random gestures, glances and movements. The details show the absurdity at its best: the bag from the house of Davidoff as a potential investment or purchase in a daily scene where bread is delivered to local shops. The colorful, almost kitsch, decor for a children’s feast beside a lunar industrial landscape, girls that giggle pleasantly and honestly in front of an unknown, and therefore irrelevant, future. With no special chromatic flares, but armed with the tools of the ethnographer, since Lasthein has made long trips and research in the areas where he shoots, the results of the politics that prevailed in Eastern Europe for over a century and gave a special and controversial culture are rendered visible. And when they are documented near the borders, they seem to appear more spectacular than ever.
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Ursula-Helen Kassaveti (photo by Vivi Kaparou) was born in Athens in 1980. She holds a B.A. in Literature (University of Athens, Athens School of Philosophy), a M.A. in Cultural Studies (University of Athens, Department of Communication and Mass Media) and a Ph.D. in Film, Genre Theory and Sociology at the same department. Her research interests revolve around Popular Culture (film/music), Visual Ethnography, and Cultural Studies. She has been a post-doc researcher at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where she co-taught the undergraduate module “Social History of Mass Media” (2015) and is now a research fellow at University of Patras. She has made various announcements in international and Greek conferences and has published articles and a monography on film and media. She teaches “Discourse and Visual Analysis” and “Greek Film & Culture” at “Kostis Palamas” Longlife Education Program at the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens.