Pho­tog­ra­pher treks over Lithua­nia

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Low­field Heath

The English pho­tog­ra­pher and Kau­nas res­i­dent Richard Schofield re­cently com­pleted a 12-day tour of Lithua­nia where he vis­ited and pho­tographed the re­main­ing 100 or so syn­a­gogues and Jewish prayer houses in the coun­try for a new photo book he’s in the process of writ­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the cen­te­nary of Lithua­nian in­de­pen­dence in 2018.

A hun­dred syn­a­gogues in 12 days, that’s some achieve­ment. Tell me how and why you did it?

I like to set my­self chal­lenges. I did it for sev­eral rea­sons, partly to raise money for the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Lit­vak Pho­tog­ra­phy, the small NGO I run in Kau­nas, partly be­cause I wanted to know more about the sub­ject, and partly be­cause I’m a trained doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher and this seemed like a beau­ti­ful and in­ter­est­ing thing to pho­to­graph. I did the trip hitch­hik­ing, trav­el­ling on buses and, for one day, driv­ing around the coun­try­side with an English friend who lives in Kedainiai.

Why bother con­cen­trat­ing on a sub­ject that’s no longer rel­e­vant in Lithua­nia?

But it is rel­e­vant. Lithua­nia’s about to cel­e­brate its 100th an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence. The Lit­vaks (Lithua­nian Jews) played a huge role in this, rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try at the peace talks at the end of the First World War and fight­ing (and dy­ing) in the Lithua­nian Wars of In­de­pen­dence that fol­lowed. Lithua­nia has many peo­ple to thank for its in­de­pen­dence, not just the usual sus­pects.

And you’re writ­ing a book?

An e-book. My sec­ond photo e-book in fact. My NGO will be the main pub­lisher and we’ll dis­trib­ute it with the help of Dutch Kills Press, a small pub­lish­ing house run by a friend in New York.

What kind of con­di­tion did you find the syn­a­gogues you vis­ited in? How did it make you feel?

Some are go­ing to be rub­ble and dust be­fore the end of the year. Oth­ers are used for stor­ing fire­wood. Some lay aban­doned, one is a church, some are apart­ments. There’s even one (in Tel­siai) used as the of­fice of a mem­ber of the Lithua­nian Par­lia­ment. A few have been or are in the process of be­ing ren­o­vated, such as the one in Kedainiai which is now a pop­u­lar and in­spir­ing mul­ti­cul­tural cen­tre. One of the rea­sons for do­ing the trip was to see how I felt about all these build­ings, and to try and un­der­stand how bet­ter to ap­proach the sub­ject of re­mem­ber­ing. My NGO is try­ing to buy an aban­doned sy­n­a­gogue in Kau­nas at the mo­ment, and the jour­ney helped me put this some­what ab­stract idea into more con­crete terms. I’m more de­ter­mined than ever to do this. The sit­u­a­tion with the syn­a­gogues in Lithua­nia is an un­usual one. In New York, for ex­am­ple, there are lots of them that have been con­verted into other uses, but that’s be­cause peo­ple stopped go­ing to them as they slowly lost their faith. In Lithua­nia, peo­ple stopped go­ing be­cause they were mur­dered. Re-us­ing these build­ings un­der these cir­cum­stances is a moral mine­field. I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this. Buy the ebook when it’s pub­lished, and find out more!

I will! The pho­to­graphs you took for the book are great. What did you use to make them with?

Thank you. I took them us­ing my smart phone. It’s a habit I can’t get out of. I stud­ied pho­to­jour­nal­ism and doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy in Lon­don us­ing a sim­ple Nokia phone I bought in 2007. There’s an im­me­di­acy and beauty you get with a mo­bile phone that I love. It also makes it eas­ier to pho­to­graph peo­ple. No­body takes you se­ri­ously when you point a phone at them, and their re­laxed at­ti­tude comes out in the fi­nal im­age. Like the one I took of Boris in Kau­nas on the last day of the trip. Boris grew up in chil­dren’s homes and has been liv­ing in the for­mer sy­n­a­gogue in Zali­akal­nis for 20 years where he also looks af­ter the build­ing. The sy­n­a­gogue’s owned by the Jewish Re­li­gious Com­mu­nity in Kau­nas that pro­vides a home for some­one in need. Syn­a­gogues ex­ist to serve not only re­li­gious needs, but are also used for ed­u­ca­tional and com­mu­nity use. The case of Boris is a beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of the lat­ter.

The for­mer Tal­mud To­rah School in Kal­var­ija.

Boris out­side his home, one of eight re­main­ing syn­a­gogues in Kau­nas.

A fire­man (right) and two friends in the for­mer Kloyz in Ža­garė, now the town’s fire sta­tion.

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