Andrejs Strokins is a fine art, journalistic, commercial, and documentary photographer living and working in Latvia. Despite initially dreaming of becoming an architect, Strokins made his way to photography after falling in love with the lifestyle associated with art. He worked for a while as a photographer for a news agency, but found himself too restricted to pursue his own visions. Despite his experience with varied methodologies, Strokins’ relationship with the camera through remains the same: it allows him to overcome the reservation of his nature and engage with the world.
People in the Dunes was motivated by an International Summer School of Photography project looking into the borderlands of the European continent. Strokins chose Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva, neighbourhoods in northern Riga, the capital of Latvia, on the Baltic Sea.
Allow Andrejs Strokins to tell you about the neighbourhoods he sourced his photos from, while the images tell you about the Latvian people and countryside, and about the photographer himself.
“The areas of Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva have had significant historical importance for the city of Riga; however, the importance has decreased and they have turned into neglected peripheries with remarkable swiftness. For many centuries the only road that connected Riga with the whole region of Kurzeme ran through these dune territories.”
“The Daugavgrīva Fortress which is located on the Eastern part of the island next to the estuary of Daugava was erected to protect Riga from enemy ships. These objects kept their military importance right up to World War I when new military technologies that made fortresses rather useless were introduced. Several fishermen villages were located near the Fortress; shortly before WWI the inhabitants of Riga followed the trends of the time and summer houses started to appear in the region.”
“The Second World War brought dramatic change. When it ended, Daugavgrīva became a closed territory used by the Soviet Naval Forces — the fishermen shacks were replaced by high-rise buildings and gardening and garage cooperatives were introduced in the rich bottomlands of Buļļupe.”
“Years have passed since Latvia has restored its independence and the Soviet Army has left, but the areas have not yet recovered. Their mostly Russian-speaking inhabitants have stuck somewhere between the Soviet past and the ever-changing present. Bolderāja has one of the closest beaches of the Baltic Sea and yet most of the inhabitants of Riga choose to ignore it and search for resorts, sanatoriums and plots of land for their summer houses elsewhere.”
Greater than any other statement, Strokins’ love for his home country shines through. When the subject is human, he treats them with care; he respects equally the quiet soul and the rambunctious personality. The scenes are not proper or pretty. Strokins need not paint his borderland like it is the centre; his photographs, his subjects, and his landscapes are free from that pretension. Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva are remarkable simply for being the sites of life lived; for the humanist, that’s the only accolade they need.
Images that lack or minimize human figures still contain artifacts of human use. At the border of civilization lie the micro-borders between humanity and nature. Saplings obscure the ship older than themselves; dirt paths hint at everyday flows, multiplied over years; forests overtake ancient sheds at the same time as repurposed trees support their younger brethren across baked clay.
Some of Strokins’ photos are candid snapshots, while others look like he set out to discover something worthy. No matter the nature of the capture, they all hold something extra-ordinary. He excels at finding the decisive moment, as in the image above, when the lighting, action, arrangement, and the author’s soft caress effect the piety of a Renaissance painting.
The situations he documents let us glimpse two small, forgotten neighbourhoods in a world increasingly conducted in megalopolises. The People are simultaneously emotionally compelling and convincing of their authentic depiction, a feat that speaks to Strokins’ care. The People in the Dunes are all we can expect them to be: people, living, within and around.
Strokins rejects the idea that photographers are artists with their sights set on the world around them. Instead, he believes his class is narrow-minded, interested only by that minuscule portion of life that conforms to to their expectations. Strokins embraces self-imposed explicit restrictions on his artistic process, including a feature on found photobooks and a series made in vertical format, with a unique filter, in 4:5 aspect ratio. Visit his website to stay abreast of these projects, or follow him on Instagram to stay on the borderlands.